Croatia: Challenges for sustainable return of ethnic Serb refugees

Originally published


By Ljubomir Mikic´

The disintegration of former Yugoslavia and the establishment of independent Croatia resulted in increasing tensions between the Croat majority and ethnic Serb minority. This led to armed conflict during which 950,000 (1) persons were displaced within and outside Croatia in 1991-97. While the return of displaced Croats is almost complete, the return and (re)integration of Serbs remains unresolved, despite the government's commitment to promoting sustainable return and reintegration, ensuring equal treatment and access to rights for all Serb returnees, and implementing its international obligations.(2)

This study focuses on two critical factors inhibiting sustainable return - access to housing and unemployment - which are particularly acute in urban areas. It draws on research conducted in June 2005.(3)


(1) Commission of the European Communities (CEC), Opinion of the European Commission on Croatian Suitability for EU Membership, 20 April 2004, COM(2004)257 final, p. 27,

(2) The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the provisions of the relevant international treaties Croatia is party to.

(3) Interviews were carried out in Knin (n = 29), Petrinja (n = 30), Karlovac (n = 25) and Pakrac (n = 30). Selection was by the 'snowball' method and fulfilled the following criteria: returnees of Serb ethnicity - former refugees and displaced persons from urban areas of the Republic of Croatia; persons capable of work aged 20-60; proportionally equal representation of the sexes; minimum secondary school, college or university completed; employed and unemployed persons represented. The areas were selected on the basis of higher numbers of registered returns compared to other urban areas, geographical dispersion and varieties in their sizes (9,000-60,000 inhabitants).