Dr. Erhard Busek
Special Coordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe;
former Vice-Chancellor of Austria; former Minister of Science and Research
and Minister of Education of Austria
Key achievements and challenges in the process of stabilisation of
population displacements in the Stability Pact region
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Since 2003, through its Migration, Asylum and Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI), the Stability Pact has set out to initiate, facilitate and coordinate developments in the fields of asylum, migration, visa, border management and sustainability of return and to meet international and European standards. While the promotion of conditions enabling sustainable returns to the countries of pre-conflict residence has obviously been a primary objective in such a mandate, how would you sum up the range of achievements to date in the overall effort of the Stability Pact to stabilise population displacements in the region?
Ü Dr. Erhard Busek: While operating within the Stability Pact framework, the MARRI initiative achieved its primary objective which was to bring all participating governmental and civil society actors, as well as international organisations, to agree on a common framework for regional action.
Earlier this year, the governments of the region assumed full responsibility for these matters within the framework of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). A new Regional Forum was established by a ministerial conference last April, and was confirmed by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the governments of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro in July. A regional secretariat is currently being set up in Skopje, and Albania has agreed to preside over the process during its first year. The Stability Pact will retain a consultative and supportive role, if required by the region.
The MARRI initiative’s success has been confirmed by its smooth transfer to regional ownership. Regionalisation is in fact our primary goal here at the Stability Pact. In the past, we have initiated and later transferred initiatives to the South East European (SEE) region in a wide range of areas fight against corruption, organised crime, arms control verification, and the Sava River Basin, to name but a few.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Issues of LRRD are increasingly being integrated by national and international donor agencies into their intervention strategies relating to population displacements. One of the Stability Pact’s core objectives for 2003 was precisely to implement a comprehensive approach to manage and stabilise population movements and to incorporate humanitarian activities of displacement issues into long-term development. What specific illustrations could you provide of successful LRRD interventions, particularly through the CARDS programme, in one or more of the Stability Pact countries – i.e. projects combining the promotion of the rule of law, access to property rights, social services, housing, income generation, education and training and human security measures?
Ü Dr. Erhard Busek: We have been working on several different issues, all of which have been bound together through their regional dimension. The core aim has been to strengthen and enhance the specific programmes and activities undertaken by various international organisations, bilateral donors, the national governments of the region and the European Commission.
Amongst other things, we have been working on an Access to Rights initiative with the five countries involved in the EU’s Stabilisation and Association process. This initiative sets out to identify the weaknesses and gaps in the national legal frameworks, and aims to achieve unimpeded and non-discriminatory access for all refugees and displaced citizens to their property rights and social rights as well as health, education, employment and citizenship rights. The programme seeks to establish mechanisms for consultation between state and non-state actors, and to encourage the creation of sustainable national and regional mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on the progress of implementation.
We are also working on the establishment of a Regional Information Exchange (RIE) programme, which aims to find ways to fill identified gaps in information management and cross-border information exchange, as well as data protection in the area of population movements. Whilst the core objective of this programme is regional data exchange, it also includes a strong capacity building component. In addition, at the national level, RIE assists in the transfer of data previously managed by international players to national governments.
We also consider housing policy to be a critical issue for the region. In this area, international assistance in the past had focused more on reconstruction than on sustainable development. However, too many people still remain dependent on external assistance, and housing loans are unaffordable for the poor. Although most have become property owners following the collapse of the old system, they cannot maintain, improve or commercialise their assets. Therefore we have developed two pillars for action the regularisation and upgrading of informal settlements, and the establishment of structures for the financing of housing construction and redevelopment.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Despite the return of more than 1.5 million refugees since the end of the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, the region is still home to over one million refugees and displaced persons. It is also noteworthy that nationals of four of the five Western Balkan States (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYR of Macedonia, and Serbia & Montenegro) are still ranking high on the list of nationalities seeking asylum in Western European states. Considering that recent progress in the areas of economic reform and democracy also appears to be fragile, what are the main medium-term priorities in your regional strategy to stabilise and manage population movements in the SAP countries while addressing mounting illegal migration, human trafficking and other organised crime activity?
Ü Dr. Erhard Busek: The fact that one million refugees have returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina is a very positive sign for the region, and it confirms our original strategy which was to put returns to the forefront of our programme. By this, I mean that we have encouraged returns to the places of origin in order to try to recreate multi-ethnic societies, as opposed to establishing new urban, economic centres which might cement ethnic divisions.
While returns remains our primary goal, we also respect the free choice of the individual refugee or displaced person, and encourage governments to adopt solutions that address the challenge posed by those refugees and displaced people who do not wish to (or cannot) return to their homes. Through work in other areas, we also try to improve economic competitiveness in the region, which calls for a mobile labour force. This makes improvements in access to social, economic and political rights for permanently displaced people all the more urgent and necessary.
In all possible fora, I make the point that in order to demonstrate their political and democratic maturity, SEE governments have to show their willingness, readiness and determination to create the necessary conditions in the areas of security and non-discriminatory access to these rights.