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Croatian deputy PM attends UN meeting on refugees

ZAGREB, Dec 10 (Hina) - Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Family Affairs, War Veterans and Intergenerational Solidarity, Jadranka Kosor, on Wednesday supported the activities of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in providing aid to refugees around the world and systematically improving their protection, protecting their human rights and seeking lasting solutions to refugee crises.

Addressing a meeting of the High Commissioner's Dialogue on Protection Challenges in Geneva, Kosor said that the issue of refugee return was high on the list of priorities of the Croatian government and one of the priorities of Croatia's accession strategy on the road to full membership of the European Union and NATO.

Kosor said that the progress Croatia had made in this field had brought it closer to membership of the two associations.

Kosor mentioned several facts regarding the refugee crisis in Croatia during its 1991-1995 war of independence.

In the early 1990s, Croatia cared for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people as a result of the military aggression against Croatia and hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Towards the end of 1992, Croatia was caring for 700,000 displaced persons and refugees when a third of its territory was occupied by Serb insurgents backed by the Yugoslav army.

The situation changed substantially in 1995 when conditions were created for the return of a large number of displaced Croats to their homes and for the return of refugees to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. At that time Croatia opted for the policy of encouraging the return and reintegration of the displaced persons and refugees as the most suitable solution.

The return of Croats as the majority population began first, while the return of minority Serbs began during the peaceful reintegration of eastern Croatia and the adoption of a programme for refugee return in 1998.

Kosor said that during the implementation of the programme, the government made it possible for 221,000 displaced people and 126,000 refugees from Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to return to their prewar homes in Croatia, 145,000 houses and apartments destroyed or damaged during the war had been rebuilt, over 45,000 refugees, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, had been locally integrated, and 19,000 houses had been returned to their rightful owners.

By assisting refugees in returning to their homes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia had rebuilt 5,000 houses for returnees to Bosnia and Herzegovina, making it possible for Bosnian Croat refugees to return to their homes. Next year, the Croatian government plans to help 600 such families.

Kosor said that the Croatian government intends to fully settle the refugee return issue during its present term in office. For that purpose, the government has adopted an action plan to speed up the implementation of the housing programme for refugees wishing to return to Croatia.

In 2008, the government provided housing for 1,427 refugee families, former tenancy right holders, thus resolving the issue of 91 per cent of former tenancy right holders, while the remaining nine per cent will be provided with housing before the end of the year, Kosor said.

Speaking of plans for 2009, Kosor said that the government would provide housing for all of the remaining 2,144 families, former tenancy right holders.

Since many of the former tenancy right holders live in Serbia, the Croatian government had difficulty in maintaining communication with the applicants, particularly because of problems in cooperation with the Serbian authorities. For that reason, the government has signed agreements with two Serbian organisations that provide legal aid to refugees, to help refugees in properly preparing their applications, Kosor said.

Kosor said that Croatia had so far invested HRK 38 billion of budgetary funds in programmes for the return of displaced persons and refugees, including housing and infrastructure reconstruction, property restitution, housing and care for displaced persons and refugees. Of the amount, HRK 16 billion has been spent on the reconstruction of over 145,000 houses and apartments destroyed or damaged during the war.