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Western Balkans: The question of refugees and IDPs, results and priority actions

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The Working Group on the Western Balkans held today a comprehensive discussion on the Refugees and IDPs in S/E Europe, initiated by the Presidency. The exchange of views that followed was based on the relevant text circulated by the Greek Presidency.
As it was underlined during the General Affairs and External Relations Council by its President, Greek Foreign Affairs Minister, George Papandreou, on the 27th of January, the return of refugees is of high priority to the Greek Presidency, something, also, noticeable in the Greek EU Presidency Priority Programme for the Western Balkans.

Despite the settlement of 1.5 million Refugees and IDPs in the region of S/E Europe, over one million still remains displaced, which constitutes a major humanitarian, social and political challenge for Europe and has to be addressed both at European and regional levels.

During the discussion, it was undeniable that achieving genuine and sustainable integration of minority returnees should be assessed as an indicator of political and democratic maturity, as well as of compliance with European standards.

Mrs. Peggy Hicks, Director for Communities and Refugees - UNMIK, Amb. Semneby, Head of OSCE Office in Zagreb, Mr. Dario Carminati, Head of UNHCR Office in Belgrade, Mr Taylor, Deputy head of Office of the High Representative for Return and Reconstruction, and Mr. Sorren Jessen Petersen, Chairman of MARRI Initiative of Stability Pact, briefed the Committee regarding the situation and any development in the areas of their responsibility. Greek positions were presented by Mr. Haralambos Kondoris, Special Advisor, MFA.

It was underscored by all participants that it is encouraging that national and international perception and planning regarding displacement issues is moving from a purely humanitarian approach to a broader development and economic perspective. Therefore, for the next two years, efforts should focus on the sustainability of return.

The Greek Presidency, pointed out the significance of full implementation of the Dayton, Ohrid and Belgrade Agreements as well as UNSCR 1244, and strongly supports the active participation in and support of international organizations and regional initiatives, especially the Stability Pact for S/E Europe and the S/E European Cooperation Process ( SEECP ), as well as Civil Society efforts regarding refugees and IDPs.

In addition it was agreed that closer cooperation and more effective coordination of all actors involved in the return of refugees and displaced persons in Western Balkans is needed. The EU will be further engaged to that end.