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People Still Returning to Kosovo, says ICMC Balkans Director

THE BALKANS June 16, 2006 - "Return of refugees and internally displaced persons to the Balkans is not dead," reports Conan Peisen, Director of the Balkans region for the International Catholic Migration Commission. "On the contrary, it's increasing."

Mr. Peisen was addressing a joint consultation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-government organizations active in Europe, held at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday, June 6th.

"In fact, return is happening in some of the most difficult areas" of the former Yugoslavia. Though there is no publicity for most of the returns, Mr. Peisen estimated that the number continues to rise.Program results and research increasingly point to a critical lesson of years of return programming in the Balkans: as one participant put it, "the individualized return program [i.e., one that considers and works directly with individuals or families, one-by-one] is the only one that makes sense."

ICMC has over a decade of experience working throughout the Balkans in a range of innovative programs, in particular for the individualized return and reintegration of people and families who had fled their homes in the break-up of former Yugoslavia. ICMC developed some of the region's first integrated economic revitalization, community stabilization and minority return projects. In 1999, ICMC began providing assistance to people who had been displaced from Kosovo. ICMC was then asked by UNHCR to act as a lead agency in facilitating assistance to vulnerable groups and minorities in the population areas of Prizren and Pejë/Pec in Kosovo.

Mr. Peisen encouraged the UN and governments to continue to support programs that offer not only reconstruction but also pre-return counselling, genuine voluntariness, and post-return reintegration. With recent political events in the region, Mr. Peisen noted the question of what will happen with the large number of displaced Serbs and other minorities such as Roma. "It was only five years after the Dayton agreements that substantial assistance really started" for return programs in the Balkans, he observed. "Now would be exactly the wrong time to stop the support."

The purpose of the consultation was to exchange views on some of the important operational challenges and issues in Europe and to discuss UNHCR's operational objectives and activities planned for 2006-2007. Such consultations are an important part of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres commitment to developing strategic partnerships between UNHCR and NGOs.