Balkan states raise $395 million for refugees

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By AIDA CERKEZ, Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro raised Tuesday some €300 million ($395 million) at an international donors conference to help house 74,000 people who have been living as refugees for over two decades.

The countries sought to raise €500 million to help those who have fled their homes during the 1990's wars in the former Yugoslavia resettle in their new communities or return to their original homes.

Some three million people were displaced during those wars, making it the biggest displacement in Europe after World War II. Most of those returned home or found alternative arrangements.

At the conference in Sarajevo, the EU donated €230 million, while the U.S. and others committed the remaining €70 million.

Stefan Fuelle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, said he will push to get the remainder over the next five years.

The deal envisages that within five years all refugee camps in these four countries would closed and those living in them would get new homes.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, praised the political will of the countries for trying to solve one of the remaining legacies of their bitter conflicts.

With the program supposed to benefit the 74,000 people still living in very destitute conditions, "I believe we will be closing this tragic chapter of displacement," Guterres told The Associated Press.

The program is designed to help people like 35-year-old Mersudin Alic. He was forced to flee from the eastern Bosnian town of Bratunac in the 1990s and has been living at a refugee camp in the country's northeast ever since.

Alic, who is now a father of two, said he would like to rebuild his house in Bratunac and bring his new family back there.

Hajrija Smajlovic, 73, also fled Bratunac during the war and have opted to go back and rebuild her house.

"I want to light up a fire in my stove and feel the warmth of it in my own house. And cry on my own piece of land. Then if God wants me to die, I will die."

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