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FM says UNHCR decision logical, Croatia to continue caring for refugees

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Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said at a government session on Thursday that Croatia would continue to provide for refugees, although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recommended ceasing for Croatia the status of country with a prolonged refugee crisis.

The UNHCR last week issued a recommendation to cease refugee status for persons who left Croatia in 1991-95.

Given the investments in reconstruction and returns as well as the procedures and decisions being made for the return of people who left during the war, the recommendation to cease the refugee status makes sense, Pusic said.

This does not mean, though, that one should give up the commitments that were undertaken and they are becoming even stronger now that the issue of responsibility for one's own citizens is solely on Croatia, she added.

Everything relating to reconstruction and the completion of the return of those who have said they wish to return is now a Croatian responsibility and Croatia will see it through, despite the status of a country which no longer has a refugee crisis, Pusic said.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said it was more than an obligation, something valuable and good. He compared it to the importance of regulating the status of ethnic and other minorities.

Although the UNHCR recommendation is not binding and each asylum state decides on its own whether to implement it, the UNHCR will no longer consider the people in question as refugees after the expiry of the deadlines for the cessation of the status.

Currently 49,056 registered refugees from Croatia live in the region. Nearly all are ethnic Serbs, according to the UNHCR. According to Croatian data, 133,000 ethnic Serbs who left in the 1991-95 war have come back.

The US Embassy to Croatia welcomed the UNHCR recommendation, saying it was the result of efforts by Croatian governments to provide a safe environment for the returnees by taking firm and irreversible steps to enable all families from Croatia to come back.