Serbia has no plans to strip refugees of status - official

BELGRADE -- Refugees in Serbia will have the same status as before, despite an initiative to abolish it, says the director of the Fund for Aid to Refugees and IDPs.

According to Radomir Kukobat, this recently presented proposal is "unfounded in facts, and extremely unusual - especially since it is coming from the UNHCR." He noted that, in practice, such initiatives "almost exclusively come from host countries."

"Serbia as a receiving country has neither launched such an initiative, nor is thinking about it," Kukobat said and pointed out that, regardless of the proposal that came from the UNHCR, refugees will "still enjoy hospitality in Serbia and the same status as before."

In this regard, the provincial government of Vojvodina, "as part of the overall government structure that cares about refugees," will continue to carry out programs planned for this year, which have been funded with about half a million euros, said Kukobat.

He announced the continuation of the Fund's assistance to refugee families buying village households in Vojvodina, providing of building materials to those who have started building their new homes, and assistance in starting businesses in agriculture, crafts, and other sectors.

"These programs will this year include more than 200 refugee or IDP families in the province which is satisfactory, given the economic problems in our country," said Kukobat.

He also noted that the provincial fund he is heading helped house more than 900 refugee or displaced families since it was founded in 2007, and was engaged in a series of other important programs aimed at economic empowering and improving the lives of refugees.

The closure of collective centers and appropriate housing for people who now live there is a key goals of the province, said Kukobat and announced that, as planned, the last such center, located in Pančevo, should shut down "in the foreseeable future, probably by the end of next year."

The province will work together with the National Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, the EU and local governments to support projects that will help the closure of the center, as was done in the past, he said.

"I think that by the end of 2015, there will be no collective refugee centers in Vojvodina," says Kukobat, adding that this goal of provincial authorities will be "the first to be achieved."

"Of course, many other problems of refugees will remain to be solved, such as property issues, pensions, and others, but those are resolved through interstate agreements," said Kukobat and expressed hope that the issue of refugees in Serbia would be resolved by 2017.

Currently about 57,000 people formally retain refugee status, or have refugee identity cards - 27,000 in Vojvodina, most of whom were driven out of their homes in Croatia.