The social development bank in Europe

Building homes, strengthening regional cooperation

New homes for 800 families in 2016

Marko and Dusica Uzelac, Obrenovac, Serbia
Marko and Dusica Uzelac, Obrenovac, Serbia
In the summer of 1995, Marko and Dusica Uzelac arrived in Serbia on a tractor, with what belongings they could carry. They ended up in Obrenovac living with relatives – sharing a 50sqm flat with up to 20 people at times. Marko used to be a cook back in Croatia so he quickly managed to find odd jobs as a waiter to support the family. Securing a home for the four of them, on the other hand, proved elusive.

The Uzelac family is among an estimated three million refugees displaced both within and beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia as a consequence of armed conflicts in the nineties. During the past two decades, many of those refugees have managed to re-establish their lives through local integration, resettlement or return. However, tens of thousands still remain displaced throughout the region, many of them living in precarious conditions and with no permanent housing.

RHP: durable solutions for refugees

Since 2011, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia have re-established mutual cooperation and reaffirmed their commitment to resolving the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable populations. As a result, the Regional Housing Programme was established.

As part of the overall Sarajevo process, this regional initiative is endorsed by the international community, including the European Union represented by the European Commission, the United States of America, the CEB, the UNHCR and the OSCE.

Helping the most vulnerable according to their needs

The process of selecting beneficiaries is a crucial element of the RHP, and it is monitored by the UNHCR and OSCE. Its purpose is to ensure that RHP housing units are provided to those refugees and IDPs that are most in need. At end-2016, out of the 7 900 beneficiary families covered by currently available RHP funding, most had already been selected.

RHP beneficiaries, like the Uzelac family, have the choice of either voluntary return or reintegration in their place of origin or integration in their place of current residence. Moreover, they are provided with the most suitable housing option, based on their needs and family profile. These modalities include the construction of apartment buildings; the reconstruction/renovation of existing buildings or houses; the provision of building material packages; the provision of pre-fabricated houses and the purchase of apartments or village houses.

Marko and Dusica Uzelac chose to buy a house in the village in which they have been living for years now, close to their grown-up daughters and their six grandchildren. They are happy to have a garden where they can grow some vegetables.

For other refugees, particularly the elderly, an apartment is a better housing solution. This is the case of Petar Eror, a returnee to Croatia, who used to live for years in a dilapidated and isolated village house before moving into an RHP-built apartment in Korenica.

“To be honest, I got more and better than what I could imagine,” says Eror. “The health centre is 80m away, I have press, commerce, neighbours – everything. I am no longer fit for chopping wood and carrying things.”

Strengthening regional cooperation

Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia with Michael Devenport, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia
Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs with Michael Devenport, Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia
One of the cornerstones of the RHP is its regional character. “The importance of this Programme goes beyond our countries’ borders and proves that regional cooperation and reconciliation can bring solutions to long-term refugee problems in our region,” says Ivica Dačić, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia.

The four Partner Countries work closely together to reach their common goal. They support each other and exchange information daily to maintain a steady pace of RHP implementation, to find synergies in their work and to learn from each other’s successful experiences within the RHP.

“It is important to emphasise that the RHP is beneficial not only for displaced populations but also for the entire region, as it contributes to stability and fosters good neighbourly relations,” says Semiha Borovac, Minister for Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Building local capacity

One of the factors that sets the RHP apart from most other housing projects in the region is the strong ownership of the Partner Countries. This helps build institutional capacity to implement projects in the future, in line with EU standards. Support to national structures is provided through technical assistance embedded within the implementing institutions to support project implementation and management. The technical assistance is funded by the European Union and channelled through the CEB.

The RHP also helps strengthen cooperation between the central government and local self-governments, as the Programme is implemented in hundreds of municipalities in the region. The support of municipalities for the RHP is vital, as they issue building permits, manage technical acceptances, provide land and infrastructure. Local administrations have a
high level of ownership of the projects and are actively involved in their implementation, including in procurement and beneficiary selection.

Donors

At a recent Assembly of Donors meeting in Paris, the European Union, represented by the European Commission, the RHP’s biggest donor, announced its intention to commit the full amount initially pledged to the RHP.

The new funds should allow for the financing of up to 3000 additional housing units by 2021. At the same time, Germany committed an additional € 1 million to the Fund.

Other donors include Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Turkey, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Romania, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

RHP stakeholders agreed that the implementation of the programme, now in its fourth year, had seen significant progress. By the end of 2016, about 1 000 housing units will have been delivered, while in 2017 this figure is expected to quadruple. In 2018, close to 8 000 housing units are expected to be delivered for the benefit of more than 23 000 vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons.

In the words of Marko Uzelac: “It is nice to know that someone cares.”