November 2001

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AMBASSADORS VISIT RETURNEES

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AMBASSADORS VISIT DPRE SITES: Over the past two years, four visits have been made by multinational groups of Ambassadors to various Displaced Persons and REfugees (DPREs) Return Sites located across Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The aim of each visit was to show the Ambassadors the return of DPREs 'on the ground'. They were able to see for themselves how reconstruction funds provided by their respective Governments and other donors have been used, what difficulties returnees, particularly the many who had returned spontaneously, are faced with and what their needs are.

Initial Visit

The first such visit took place in September 1999 and was organized by the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who are the lead agencies for DPREs, and with the cooperation of SFOR. It afforded the Ambassadors an ideal opportunity to view progress in the return of DPREs and to hear from the returnees themselves about their daily problems, worries and hopes.

Further Visits

Two further visits were organized in March and August 2000, which saw a high level of attendance. Again SFOR was in close support, airlifting the delegates to each site by helicopter. During the August visit the High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, together with Lt Gen Roger Duburg, the then DCOMSFOR, were shown a site near Doboj. HR Petritsch said, "I am very happy to see that reconstruction is well on its way. With the International Community support, we must consolidate the progress that has already been made."
Organizing such events is no small undertaking: consideration needs to be made of such things as the entity and ethnic balance of the sites to be visited, their accessibility, security and the existence of minefields. SFOR's role in both the planning and implementation of the Visits is therefore vital.
In planning the most recent visit held in June 2001, Stephan Annighoefer (OHR) said, 'I hope that after the ambassadors' visit the funding for the Reconstruction and Return Task Force (RRTF) will significantly increase for the better for the people of BiH." As in previous visits, the Ambassadors were particularly impressed by the determination of ordinary people to return to their homes, despite all the associated difficulties.

Bottom line

During each trip, Ambassadors have met with representatives of the OHR and UNHCR, and been briefed by local politicians and administrative officials, as well as representatives of the returnees. The tours have allowed Ambassadors to get a first-hand look at the conditions in which Returnees have to live, as well as the progress that is being made in rehousing them. Armed with this insight, they can encourage their own Governments to continue to donate generously.