FMR 33 Launch event

FMR Co-Editor Maurice Herson, Walter Kälin, Naveed Hussain (UNHCR Bosnia head of office), Erin Mooney from ProCap (one of the authors in FMR33) and the Bosnian Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, Safet Halilović, spoke at the event, which was attended by some 130 representatives of regional governments, embassies, bilateral donors, other UN agencies and international and local NGOs.

Below are the text of Maurice Herson’s speech and a blog that he wrote from Sarajevo.

This event proved to be useful in generating additional publicity for FMR as well as acting to support UNHCR’s regional initiative to continue to find solutions for those stuck in protracted displacement in the western Balkans. UNHCR produced a brochure about this situation for their campaign.


Presentation at Sarajevo launch event

Your Excellencies, colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here, to have been invited here, today.

Back in Oxford my co-Editor and I are often asked how we choose the themes for Forced Migration Review. There’s no one answer – it’s always a complex and almost intuitive process. We talk with colleagues in academia, the UN, in governments, in local and international NGOs, and something emerges as an issue of important concern for all of the above and, most importantly, for displaced people.

After that, what is always true is that we are surprised by what emerges as we do our research and when we get articles submitted for publication.

Protracted  refugee situations (PRSs) were coming up as the subject for the High Commissioner for Refugees’ Dialogue last year after we decided on this theme. We, of course, widened it from PRSs to Protracted displacement situations, and were deliberately lax about the definition in terms of scale and length of time that they last.

We did find out something, as we had expected and hoped, about the impact of long-term displacement on different age-groups and generations, what happens, as the length of time extends, in people’s psychological and social lives. There is an interesting article in this issue about how, in Cyprus, the younger generation has been able to ‘move on’ while their parents and grandparents live in displacement with the past unresolved. There is another article about the new political activism among a younger generation of Palestinians living in exile. This is in contrast to the ‘big picture’ about political and institutional responses to mass displacements that never quite end. But it is such realities that the talk of rights and needs has also to address in those political and institutional responses.

An Ethiopian writes about the experiences of an Ethiopian community living in a refugee camp in Kenya for 15 years. And from many countries we hear for example about mainly older people, effectively trapped in so-called collective centres, building never designed for long-term accommodation. No least here in the Balkans.

We found out that there are as many Internally displaced people (IDPs) as refugees in protracted displacement situations, again not least here in the Balkans. As the situation of displacement lengthens, the conditions in which people have to live may not deteriorate but their hopes of improvement become less viable; the numbers of them who find ways out of their situation lessen and those who are stuck are more firmly in need of international and local political will to find acceptable ways to create durable solutions for them, and to allow them too to benefit from the progress towards lasting peace.

It’s nearly 10 years since I was last here in Sarajevo. As I walked the streets yesterday evening I was impressed and amazed at the changes, the positive changes, over the ten years since I was last here, and I could not imagine that the normality all around me could be lost; for those for whom so much has been gained that seems unthinkable. For those who remain stuck in more-or-less the same situation they have been in for years, more needs to change to enable them to take charge of their own lives. I am, of course, talking about the Balkans, but also about people in Georgia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Burma, Somalia, Darfur, ……

As I said, our colleagues around the world are our eyes and ears on the world, but they are also our readers and our supporters. I should mention the governments of Canada and of Australia who provided funding for this issue of FMR, as did UNHCR. We thank them for enabling us to produce this issue.

And I thank UNHCR for arranging to launch, here in Sarajevo, this issue of FMR, alongside their own brochure on displacement in the region. We are very pleased to be working with them here to use these publications to draw attention to the ongoing displacement in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans more widely, and what needs to be done to complete the job and release people to get on with fulfilling lives.

This is a gratifying example of one of the things we say about the purpose of FMR, to keep the needs of displaced people on the international agenda and to contribute to improving policy and practice for people affected by forced migration.
Thank you.


Thoughts from Sarajevo 11.11.09

November the 11th  in Sarajevo, where the assassination that  triggered the Great War occurred. Today is the anniversary of the day the Great War ended, the war to end all wars. But of the many wars that have occurred since then, for the people here their own must still be a vivid memory.

Sarajevo is all but unrecognisable from the time of the war in the Balkans in the ‘90s, at least on the surface. Approximately half of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was forced into displacement during the war. Today, 117,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone, including some 7,500 people residing in temporary so-called collective centres, often in appalling conditions. And there are tens of thousands more in other parts of the region. Many of the dispossessed, for example, await the restitution of their property, something that is unlikely to happen, or some other permanent resolution of their situation.

"This is not the same as normal life. Everything is very difficult. You lose your house, you lose your property, the children grow up and leave you – it’s awful.” Vinka Kolundzija, a Croatian Serb who became a refugee in Serbia 13 years ago, quoted in Forced Migration Review.

Sarajevo was in the news again today, with worries about increasing tensions in Bosnia-Hercegovina, but the meeting I am here for is to draw attention to the plight of those for whom the after-effects of the war that ended continue. UNHCR is holding an event to launch the latest issue of Forced Migration Review focusing on Protracted Displacement Situations – and to draw attention to the fact that so many people still remain displaced, to re-invigorate domestic efforts to end displacement in the region, and to reverse the fading of international attention.

Maybe today’s news will, ironically and coincidentally – for this meeting has been planned for months – have a positive effect on UNHCR’s efforts. As I walked the streets this evening I was impressed and amazed at the changes, the positive changes, over the ten years since I was last here, and I could not imagine that the normality all around me could be lost again to civil war. For those for whom so much has been gained that seems unthinkable. For those who remain stuck in more-or-less the same situation they were in at the end of the war, more needs to change.

Tomorrow’s meeting, to be addressed by Dr. Walter Kälin, the Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Displaced Persons and the Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, Safet  Halilovic', won’t in itself create those changes. It takes more, as it took more to start the First World War than an assassination on the streets here. In 1914 there was seemingly unstoppable international political will for war. The Balkans today need international and local political will to find acceptable ways to create durable solutions for the remaining IDPs, and certainly to prevent the progress towards lasting peace from being reversed.


Maurice Herson, Co-Editor, Forced Migration Review