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Sarajevo process : the 1992-95 war refugee problem in the Western Balkans

Sarajevo process : the 1992-95 war refugee problem in the Western Balkans
© Michel Bazin / Fotolia

The Sarajevo Process takes its name from the Sarajevo Declaration adopted in January 2005 at a Regional Ministerial Conference on Refugee Returns (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro. It was further supported by the Belgrade Declaration, adopted at the Migration, Asylum and Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI) Regional Forum, on 7 April 2006. The participating states committed to find a solution for the remaining displaced persons from the 1991-1995 conflicts. The declaration also aims to simplify procedures for obtaining personal documents, both for displaced persons and returnees. To give an idea of the numbers involved,  350,000 Croatian Serbs originally fled Croatia (90 % of whom went to Serbia) and some 220,000 Croats were internally displaced. In Bosnia, the 1992-95 war caused the displacement of over a million people and 800,000 refugees temporarily took refuge in Croatia. In 2007, Serbia (particularly in the province of Vojvodina) still had close to 300,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP), coming from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Croatia.

On 7 November 2011, the foreign ministers of Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a declaration during the Ministerial Review Conference on Resolving the Refugee Situation in the Western Balkans in Belgrade to progress the issue of refugees and IDPs. A Donor’s Conference took place on 24th April 2012 in Sarajevo. There the EU said it was prepare to fund around  €230 million of the €500 million necessary to find a long lasting solution for the  remaining about 75.000 displaced persons. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), 103,000 people remained displaced in Bosnia  and 2.400 in Croatia in 2012. The return rate in Bosnia has been slow with about 260 persons returned in 2011. Serbia has 225,000 IDPs (Serbs, Roma and Egyptians) from Kosovo.

EU and Council of Europe positions

European Commission progress reports follow the issue in the four states. The 2013 reports underline the need to establish “rigorous beneficiary selection procedures” and “data cross checking”. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has addressed the problem in several recommendations: Recommendation 1802 (2007) of 27 June 2007 on the situation of longstanding refugees and displaced persons in South East Europe. This was not the first time, many recommendations deal with the same issue: Recommendation 1588 (2003) on population displacement, Recommendation 1633 (2003) on forced returns of Roma, and several more.

Other Regional Initiatives

The Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI) deals with the issues of migration management in the Western Balkans by promoting regional cooperation and an integrated approach to the issues of migration, asylum and related policies as well as refugee return and settlement. The idea is that the countries of the region take ownership of  regional cooperation. The Balkan Transitional Justice initiative, funded by the EC and Switzerland, publishes news and analyses on returnees and IDPs.

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