Feature story, transmission of FRIDAY, April 11, 2003 at 21H30 CET Europe by Satellite

Displacement in the Balkans - time to close the case?

The former Agriculture School near Leskovac is today one of the 300 collective centers still hosting refugees in Serbia. Many of the hundred people who live here spend most of their time glazing through the windows, as if waiting for something to change their lives -- miserable for too long. Radojka Stojakovic is among them. She first fled from Croatia to Kosovo, and was forced to move again four years later, this time to Serbia.

Radojka Stojakovic, refugee from Croatia now in Serbia
One year ago, I visited my home in Croatia. There are only walls left there, and a bath tub. All the rest was stolen. It is impossible to live there. Almost no-one is going back there. The conditions are very bad, I don't have anything to make a living there. But it is also very difficult here.

The fate of Radojka Stojakovic is just one in a sea of similar sad stories. More than three million people in the former Yugoslavia were forced to flee during the nineties. Wars and ethnic cleansing have scattered many lives and provoked an immense migration wave with long term implications for all the countries in the region.
The wars are over, but the consequences are still there. In Serbia, there are still more than 300,000 refugees, mainly from Croatia, in need of a permanent solution. The first option is, of course, to return to their homes. If they still have one.

Ozren Tosic, Head of Serbian Commissariat for Refugees
Property rights including tenancy rights cannot be taken away from people. They have to be given back to the people, no matter if they want to go back to Croatia and live there, or if they want to sell their property to start a new life here in Serbia.

An important factor in the decision to return, is to be able to see what state the property left behind is in today. However delicate and emotional it may be, the first visit back to the abandoned home is a key moment for deciding whether to return or not.
Many refugees from Croatia are discouraged from going back, because the procedure is too lengthy and complicated. The rebuilding of houses is often impossible for refugees to afford by themselves, and assistance is given only where the damage was light or where the existing infrastructure allows it.

Serb returnee to Croatia
The reconstruction of my house is about to start. The house has been classified as `sixth category` kind of damage and the Croatian government will repair it. I have all the necessary papers and it should start soon. For the moment I'm building a roof for my chicken….

The Cudic family is a rare good example of integration - their youngest son has been awarded a prize in the local school competition on the theme `I Love Croatia.`

Jadranka Cudic, Serb returnee to Croatia
My youngest son won the first prize of a competition to use recycled materials in a creative way. The name of the competition was `I love Croatia`… They were making an alligator out of old car spare parts, and they won 3000 kuna…
But for many others, returning home stills still looks like a distant dream. Croatian President Mesic is outspoken about the necessity of refugee return, but stresses that this process must go in all directions.

Stipe Mesic, President of Croatia
Most of the refugees of Serb nationality from Croatia are for the moment in Serbia. They cannot come back to their houses in Croatia because these are occupied by Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Republika Srpska in BiH doesn't do a lot, or even sometimes prevents Croat and Bosniak families to return to their homes.

The vicious circle of refugee return between Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia is the obstacle for everyone to fully exercise their rights. Driven by the Stability Pact, the three countries have signed an agreement on return, which is a process that can be solved only at the regional level, providing that governments stick to what they have signed.
But after so many years, many have moved on with their lives in a new environment. To them, return is no longer an option. The collective center in Medvedja in southern Serbia is closed, and the refugees have been moved into apartments built by a the German NGO ASB. For them as well as for the returnees, conditions are being created for a long term resettlement - jobs, social security, property rights.
Biljana Sladoje now lives here in Serbia, and doesn't want to return to Zenica, in Bosnia. But she wants to get her apartment back, and secure a pension for her mother.

Biljana Sladoje, Bosnian refugee in Serbia
We have a tenancy right back in Zenica and we hope to have the full property rights back so we can sell our apartment or rent it to make our life easier here. To buy some necessities, everything which we need for a normal life.

Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina the forced migrations of populations during the war years were the most extreme. In order for Biljana to regain her apartment in Zenica, the government had to move out the people who occupied her home. These people had, in turn, moved in after having been thrown out of their own homes.

Ultimately, a solution must be found for everyone. The Commission for Real Property Claims, an institution created under the Dayton Peace Accords, has filed hundreds of thousands of requests to regain property. It should finish its massive task by the end of the year. To date, about 80 % of the claims have been positively solved and the citizens receive the CRPC decision as a final confirmation of their property rights on the national level.

Grandmother and son in law receiving their CRPC certificate
This is the paper that gives us our property back. It is a destroyed house in Tuzla, and we hope now that, with the help of some international organization, it will be possible to rebuild it.

For many, the return of property is just the beginning of the solution. The Hasanovic family has temporary settled in this apartment in the center of Sarajevo. They have a house near Trnovo, which was destroyed during the war, with no chances for anyone to repair it any time soon. The Canton of Sarajevo pays for their rent, and the Hasanovics live in uncertainty about where they will finally settle after having been forced to move three times.

Pasija Hasanovic, displaced from Trnovo (BiH), now living in Sarajevo
We used to have everything there, water, electricity, telephone… now there is nothing. They say they will not rebuild the whole infrastructure for our house only. They told us that we should do it ourselves. How can we do that? With what means?

The scars of war are still visible in Sarajevo. Before the war, the housing stock was already strained in this city. The war made the situation much worse. The lack of apartments points to the need to find alternative solutions for those who cannot afford to buy or build a home. Invited by the Stability Pact, the largest Austrian Trade Union Group GPA came to Sarajevo with its model of social housing. Together with the Sarajevo Canton, now 160 apartments are being built as a pilot project for a new social investment program.

Stefan Loicht , GPA Austrian Trade Union
We try to combine the low interest rates that we get in Austria from the banks, with Bosnian construction costs. So we get the best of two worlds, together, here in Sarajevo. And we get the best third thing, our benefit: our own building in thirty years. And the fourth thing, the most important thing, is that Bosnian people have a home in which to live.

Construction of housing for refugees and other vulnerable groups of people do not necessarily have to be humanitarian projects, as shown in the case of the private Greek company Nacis. Together with the Belgrade authorities, they want to develop a model of social housing for the city. The partnership between the private and the public sectors is a concept promoted by the Stability Pact.

Killian Kleinschmidt, Stability Pact
We need to break up the perception that an investor is only out there to make very high profit margins. There is a way of combining the investor's interest, the authorities' interest, and foremost the people's interest. By combining these various elements we think that we can have a win-win situation for all three sectors.

The tragic events in the nineties provoked the displacement of thousands of people, many of whome were left without their homes. Now the time has come to have a home to call their own.