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Bosnia And Herzegovina To Set Up Asylum System

UN Refugee Agency To Help Bosnia And Herzegovina Set Up Asylum System

Thirteen years after opening an office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations refugee agency said today it would gradually refocus its work to helping the country set up its own asylum system.

The representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bosnia, Udo Janz, told a news conference Wednesday in Sarajevo that nearly 1 million people had returned to their homes since the Bosnian war ended more than eight years ago, including more than 400,000 people who had gone back to areas that are controlled by their former adversaries. As the war ended, there were 2.2 million people uprooted by the longest and bloodiest of the Balkans' conflicts of the 1990s.

Mr. Janz described the returns as "real and tangible progress," adding that many of the returns were made possible by Bosnia's property law, which allowed former owners to reclaim their pre-war property. He said the property law was now almost fully implemented.

The pace of returns slowed last year, Mr. Janz noted, with some 54,000 people retuning to their homes, down from a record nearly 108,000 the year before. He said UNHCR will continue to push for more returns but it will also gradually shift to helping the young Bosnian State deal with the increase in refugees seeking asylum and protection there.

UNHCR first established an office in Bosnia in 1991, even before the conflict began. The agency's involvement peaked in 1995 when it ran a huge relief operation benefiting an estimated 1.5 million people. The effort included overland convoys and the Sarajevo airlift - the longest-lasting air bridge in history. After the Dayton Peace Agreement put an end to war in Bosnia, UNHCR focused on the return of refugees and displaced people - a task entrusted to the agency under the accord.

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