World Refugee Day Remarks

The bitter harvest of the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s can be measured in its impact on human lives. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives; hundreds of thousands endured the trauma of being forced to flee their homes and begin to rebuild their lives elsewhere.  Even after diplomats and statesmen put an end to the conflicts, after peace agreements were reached, new maps were drawn, new constitutions drafted —  for all too many people, the trauma continues to this day.  No one can replace a lost son or daughter.  Rebuilding a life and a family can still be a struggle, nearly an entire generation later.

Today is World Refugee Day, and down in Presevo, representatives of my embassy will join members of the Serbian government to note the incredible steps that Serbia is taking today to support thousands of migrants from distant lands who find themselves stuck on Serbian soil. I chose instead to come to Sid to cast a light on the work we still have to do in favor of those who were displaced nearly a generation earlier, but whose livelihoods are still at peril.

Here in Sid, we can focus on how joint efforts that includes donors, state institutions, local community support and pro bono work of generous individuals – all with the aim to create a better life to refugees and displaced population in Serbia.

When temporary displacement turns into a lifelong ordeal, displaced persons need substantial support. The support of local communities, host country, and donor countries are indispensable.  But refugees themselves make the greatest difference.

Over the past 13 years, the U.S. Government has provided more than 10 million dollars for income generation and legal aid assistance. Through that support, CRS has provided free legal aid to approximately 35,000 people and income generation grants to 1,700 people.  To resolve the housing problems of displaced persons, the U.S. donated $20 million so far, making us the second largest donor behind the European Union.  That support has gone for provisions of housing in some cases, or for building supplies for those who could build on their own.  And it has gone for vocational training and income generation grants so that displaced persons could start new jobs and support their families.

 And today, it is heartwarming to see how our beneficiaries are showing their gratitude by helping their compatriots who are vulnerable as they once were. By offering their skills and labor, they will help a vulnerable family resolve their housing needs.

The world is a better place when we give something from the heart. Today, we are all touched by this nice gesture from the heart of ex-refugees and local population.

We remain committed to supporting Serbia’s efforts to provide durable solutions to displaced population.

Thank you.