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    CM/AS(2003)Rec1588 final 24 June 2003
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    Population displacement in South-Eastern Europe: trends, problems, solutions
    Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1588 (2003)

    (Reply adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 19 June 2003 at the 844th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies)

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    1. The Committee of Ministers has given close consideration to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1588 (2003) – Population displacement in south-eastern Europe: trends, problems, solutions, which adds to the Assembly's previous recommendations on the subject (Recommendations 1569 (2002), 1510 (2001), 1424 (1999), 1406 (1999) and 1357 (1998)). It thanks the Assembly for having presented an updated overview of the humanitarian situation in the region focusing on the progress achieved and the measures to be taken to improve still further the conditions for the return of displaced populations. The Committee of Ministers is aware that this is a multi-faceted problem and would like to draw the attention of the Assembly to the wide spectrum of intergovernmental activities being undertaken to address the issue.

    2. In this connection, the Committee of Ministers believes that it is particularly important to improve the prospects for reconciliation and reintegration. With this in mind, it has always made a point of focusing the Council of Europe's activities in South-East Europe on promoting and encouraging inter-community relations both inside individual countries and in their mutual relations. The experience gained through its work on migration makes a useful contribution in this area. In particular, the report “Diversity and cohesion: new challenges for integration and inter-community relations in Europe” provides a good basis for discussing inter-ethnic dialogue and contains pointers for an integration and reintegration policy (aid for returnees).

    3. Cultural and education policies and strategies to assist young people and promote heritage conservation also play an important part in the reconciliation process. Human rights and civic education, through their content and culture of learning, contribute to the integration of the values of tolerance, respect and reconciliation. The Joint Programmes with the European Commission for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, launched in spring 2003, include significant support for the development of human rights and civic education curricula, teaching materials and teacher training. Recommendation Rec(2003)7 on the contribution of sport to alleviating the consequences of humanitarian disasters: “Ballons rouges”, which was recently adopted by the Committee of Ministers, is another practical example of the work being done in this direction.

    4. The conferences of specialised ministers are useful fora for developing co-operation in this area. For instance, the conferences of ministers from South-East Europe responsible for education are helping to support reform of the education system in the region, while the 6th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Youth held in Thessalonica from 7 to 9 November 2002 approved a resolution on the situation of young people in south-eastern Europe and the Ministerial Conference of the European Ministers responsible for Cultural Affairs to be held in Opatija (Croatia) from 20 to 22 October 2003 will consider a draft declaration on intercultural dialogue and conflict prevention.

    5. At the same time, the fight against all forms of discrimination featured prominently in the final declaration adopted by Ministers responsible for Migration at their 7th ministerial conference (Helsinki, 16-17 September 2002). At the conference, ministers made numerous undertakings to combat, in particular, discrimination in “access to employment for lawfully resident migrants” and to “strengthen anti-discrimination legislation and practical measures to combat violence [and] discrimination, including harassment against migrant workers at the workplace, taking into account relevant Council of Europe, European Union and international instruments”.

    6. In addition to actively participating in all the international and regional fora specifically devoted to south-eastern Europe such as the Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe, the South-East European
    Co-operation Process and the south-eastern European Co-operation Initiative (SECI), the Council of Europe has developed its own co-operation programmes in the region with the aim of fostering dialogue and restoring confidence. Among the activities carried out in this area, the following projects involving civil society partners should be mentioned:

    6.1 Within the Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe (Working Table I on Democratisation and Human Rights), the Council of Europe has supported the civil society initiative “Link Diversity”, made up of a series of small-scale projects to be carried out across borders. These projects are designed to break down barriers between communities and to encourage the concept of using diversity as an asset to build open and tolerant societies.

    6.2 The joint programme with the European Commission on Roma in south-eastern Europe, which is being implemented together with the OSCE-ODIHR under the Stability Pact (Working Table I - Democratisation and Human Rights), offers authorities in the region assistance with the adoption and implementation at local level of government programmes for Roma/Gypsies, while also increasing the involvement of Roma non-governmental organisations in decision-making that affects them. Joint activities are also carried out with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on access to personal documentation and social rights by refugees, in particular Roma.

    6.3 In order to meet migrants' needs in the field of social protection, the Council of Europe is helping to implement a project aimed at fostering the co-ordination of social security systems in the countries in the region. This two-year regional project is being co-funded by the Italian Government. Its purpose is to resolve the difficulties that migrants, refugees and other displaced persons encounter when they attempt to claim social security benefits. The methods adopted will involve promoting the conclusion of bilateral and multilateral social security agreements and training officials from the countries concerned (teamed together in networks of specialists) to implement the agreements.

    6.4 The Council of Europe's confidence-building programme includes a large number of projects devoted to south-eastern Europe, covering various fields such as the media, education and local government, etc. The focus is on improving relations between members of different communities.

    6.5 More recently, the Council of Europe has begun supporting a series of initiatives for inter-faith and multicultural dialogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which started with a forum in Sarajevo, and are continuing with more specific workshops in different parts of the country based on the practical interests of the local population. After Prijedor, the next workshops will be held in Mostar, Srebrenica and Travnik, with a summing-up session foreseen in Banja Luka at the beginning of 2004. This initiative could also be extended to other countries in the region.

    7. The Committee of Ministers would draw attention to the decisions taken as part of the accession procedure for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro, which guided the preparation and implementation of the post-accession co-operation programmes and procedures for monitoring commitments. In the case of both member states, particular emphasis was placed on issues relating to refugees and displaced persons. The public, quarterly monitoring reports drawn up by the Secretariat on Bosnia and Herzegovina provide regular updates on the situation of refugees and displaced persons and the prospects for their returning to their regions of origin. A similar procedure was introduced very recently for Serbia and Montenegro and will also deal with this issue.

    8. The Committee of Ministers is also paying close attention to the activities of the other international players in the region. The Rapporteur Group for Democratic Stability (GR-EDS) recently held exchanges of views with the heads of the OSCE missions in Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which highlighted the excellent co-operation between the two organisations, in particular in the fields of education and legislative expertise. The discussions focused on the OSCE's action in Bosnia and Herzegovina aimed at facilitating the return of refugees and displaced persons and implementing the legislation on property rights effectively. More specifically, a partnership is under way between the Council of Europe and the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the question of access to property by displaced Roma groups.

    9. The question of the future arrangements for displaced persons from Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro) is a particularly complex one, involving political, financial, human and military considerations. Moreover, the uncertainty over the ultimate status of Kosovo poses a major problem as regards the return of displaced persons. The UNMIK's current policy is to focus on the return of displaced persons who are members of a minority in their original place of residence. It is important, however, that national governments in the region provide these people with the necessary conditions to enable them freely to decide whether to return to Kosovo or to settle permanently in another state. The Council of Europe recently published a report reiterating its opposition to the forced return of Roma originally from Kosovo to Kosovo or other parts of Serbia and Montenegro, as any returns must be voluntary and must be studied on a case-by-case basis in line with the position adopted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in January 2003.

    10. In “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, the Council of Europe pays particular attention to the position of the Roma groups originally from Kosovo, and actively participates in seeking a solution to their situation.

    11. During his official visit to Croatia (3-4 March 2003), the Secretary General of the Council of Europe raised the question of the return of refugees and displaced persons in this country and welcomed measures taken by the Croatian government to promote a programme for the construction of accommodation for this category of people, partly financed by the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB). The Committee of Ministers takes note of the fact that Croatia has undertaken a series of measures and programs in order to provide comprehensive solutions for the remaining displaced persons and refugees. As a result of these measures the return process has been significantly advanced. Particularly important are most recent decisions adopted by the Government of Croatia (12 June 2003), designed to resolve the problem of housing of the refugees who formerly enjoyed the tenancy rights in Croatia and who intend to return and settle definitely in the country.

    12. The Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that it has forwarded Recommendation 1588 (2003) to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB). The CEB's Governing Board has drawn up comments on the recommendation, which are appended.

    13. Apart from these comments, it is worth noting that the CEB and the World Bank convened a High-Level Conference on Housing Reforms in south-eastern Europe in Paris on 23-24 April 2003 under the auspices of the Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe. Ministers in charge of housing and finance from South-East Europe attended the Conference at which 15 countries and 10 international organisations were represented. The ministers outlined the present situation and stressed the importance of housing and spatial planning policies as vectors for economic growth, social cohesion and poverty reduction. They also underlined the need to meet the demand for housing in South-East Europe, especially with regard to low-income groups, refugees, IDPs and other vulnerable groups. The international financial institutions present declared their willingness to contribute to the funding of projects to respond to the needs of the countries concerned.

    14. Finally, the Congress of Local and Regional authorities of Europe (CLRAE) will organise in Prijedor (22-23 September 2003), the 4th Forum of Cities and Regions of South-East Europe, one of the major themes of which will be devoted to the sustainable return of refugees.

    Appendix

    Comments by the Governing Board
    of the Council of Europe Development Bank
    Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1588 (2003)
    Population displacement in south-eastern Europe: trends, problems, solutions

    “The Governing Board took note of Recommendation 1588 (2003) and in particular of point 15, calling on the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) to step up its co-operation with the countries in the region, with a view to financing projects regarding refugees and IDPs.

    Aid to migrants and refugees is a statutory a priority of the CEB. Since 1956 the CEB approved almost 4.3 billion euros of loans designed to finance projects related to support actions for refugees and other measures for the management of population movements in 15 countries of operation. The CEB also finances investment projects related to social housing, health and education, rural modernisation, job creation in SMEs and vocational training that might facilitate the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced population or their sustainable integration in the receiving societies.

    The CEB takes part in the post-conflict reconstruction process in the countries of south eastern Europe, as its participation as a partner to the Stability Pact for South and Eastern Europe demonstrates.

    In close co-operation with the World Bank, the CEB is preparing a ministerial conference on social housing in the region, which is due to be held in Paris in April 2003. The aim of the conference is to give impetus to the reform process in the sector.

    In November 2002 the CEB's Governing Board held an extraordinary meeting dedicated to migration issues, which emphasised the importance of this field of financing for the Bank.”



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