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Serbia: Intensive efforts by state to integrate refugees

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Belgrade, June 20, 2007 - Serbian Commissioner for Refugees Dragisa Dabetic said today on occasion of the World Refugee Day that the state is making all possible efforts to integrate refugees into society, but at the same time it is working to provide them with an opportunity to return to the territories they left.

Dabetic stressed that Serbia is the country with the largest number of refugees and internally displace persons in Europe. There are some 100,000 refugees and 209,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo-Metohija.

He said that an additional 200,000 refugees have acquired Serbian citizenship and have remained in the country, and pointed out that if this figure is included the body of refugees and internally displaced persons comprises nearly half a million people, which makes up 7.5% of the total population of Serbia.

Speaking on the issue of return, Dabetic said that more than 69,000 people returned to Croatia, a 100,000 to Bosnia-Herzegovina, while more than 30,000 people went to other countries.

The statistics concerning Kosovo-Metohija vary but it is estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 people returned to the province, said Dabetic and remarked that this figure is so small that it hardly counts.

According to Dabetic, the international community seems to believe that 12,000 people returned to Kosovo-Metohija however this figure covers all the people who returned there, including people from West Europe.

Dabetic explained that more than 8,000 people are living in 89 collective centers, of which two thirds are internally displaced from Kosovo-Meothija, while one third are refugees.

In Serbia there are 89 collective centers, of which 17 are in Kosovo-Metohija, and the other 72 are in the territory of Serbia without Kosovo-Metohija, said Dabetic. He added that there is a programme in existence for closing these centers, but the aim is not just to close the centers but to find an alternative solution for these people.

He recalled that in 2002 Serbia adopted the national strategy for resolving the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons, and pointed to the fact that until now 25,000 people have been provided with houses through various programmes, which is a substantial achievement.

Dabetic said that there are more than 12.8 million refugees and displaced persons, and specified that of these 2.9 million are displaced and 9.9 refugees.