The bitter harvest of the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s left tens of thousands of people dead, while hundreds of thousands endured the trauma of being forced to flee their homes, compelled to start new lives somewhere else. Now, nearly a generation later, too many still struggle to rebuild a life and support a family. It was precisely for these people that the Sarajevo Process was launched.
That is why it is a pleasure to join you here for the Regional Housing Program meetings. This program meets important needs for remaining vulnerable refugees and displaced persons from the breakup of Yugoslavia. It also stands out as a strong example of regional collaboration.
At its essence, this program is about giving people a new lease on life. Earlier this month, on World Refugee Day, I was fortunate to meet with an RHP beneficiary family in Šid. There, I saw firsthand the life-changing impacts of this program. That experience illustrated the difference that the RHP is making in communities throughout the region. And it was not an exception: During my travels around Serbia, I have met with other beneficiaries who have explained how much a safe home means to them and their families as they seek to build a new existence. The RHP transform lives. So we can all celebrate the progress underway in all four countries, and be proud that tomorrow the program will celebrate the delivery of the 1,000th housing solution.
But let’s also be frank. Nearly two decades have passed since the guns went silent, since the last peace agreements were signed. When I first arrived in the region over 15 months ago, many of us, including our own RHP experts, were understandably impatient with the slow progress of program implementation. Now, in places like Ovča and Ilinci, we can see that the RHP is in full implementation mode. Solutions are being delivered to many who have waited too long to restart their lives, with an emphasis first and foremost on those that are most vulnerable. Last year saw 700 cases resolved. This year, nearly 2000 more families will receive solutions. And with several major projects now underway, in 2018 we expect to see an additional 2500 units delivered. I want to take this opportunity to thank our American team — Aida, Sam and our Washington colleagues – for their tireless dedication to making this progress a reality.
At the same time that we celebrate these successes, we must recognize that housing solutions alone will not solve the problems of displacement across the region. Complementary programs are needed to help people sustain themselves in their new homes. That’s why sustainability activities, such as the income generation and legal aid services that integrate beneficiaries fully into their communities, are just as important. A house is not a home without such complementary measures. I am impressed to hear about the commitment of partner countries to focus on this issue.
So I take this occasion to thank all of you in this room, the partner countries, the donors (especially the EU), the CEB, UNHCR, and OSCE for your work in making so much progress.
We have a chance before us to celebrate our shared successes, but also to expand and improve the RHP during its final phases, so that we continue helping those most vulnerable. I am confident that our achievements to date can continue to propel us towards the finish line.
And, in view of the current successful implementation of the Regional Housing Program, I can announce today that the United States is committed to significant additional financial support for the RHP. I anticipate that we will be in a position to announce specific details of this significant additional contribution in a matter of weeks.