“Our house is not just a home, but a symbol of hope and resilience”: RHP stakeholders commemorate successful closure of landmark Programme

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 29 November 2023 – Eleven years after the Regional Housing Programme (RHP) Donor’s Conference took place in Sarajevo in 2012, which enabled the launch of the RHP, stakeholders gathered in large numbers in the Parliamentary Assembly building of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) today, to celebrate the successful closure of this landmark Programme in the Western Balkans.

The RHP – a joint initiative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia (the “Partner Countries”) provided secure homes to 36 000 most-vulnerable refugees and internally-displaced persons in these four countries following the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As such, the RHP was the first joint post-conflict initiative between these countries.

The Programme was financed mainly by the international community, with the European Union the main Donor. Out of the EUR 294 million contributed by Donors, EUR 238 million – or 81% – was provided by the EU. Other RHP Donors were the USA, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Türkiye, Luxembourg, Spain, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and the Slovak Republic. The Partner Countries were supported by the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) with respect to implementation and capacity building as well as the management of Donor funds, and UNHCR and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) with regard to beneficiary selection and sustainability aspects.

Young RHP beneficiary at RHP Final Conference in Sarajevo (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

Addressing the Conference by video on behalf of the European Union, Olivér Várhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, stated “We are proud of being the biggest donor to the RHP, with EUR 238 million provided, and of its remarkable achievements. It represents the ideals that inspired the creation of our Union: a peaceful, united, and prosperous Europe. This is an extraordinary example of how regional cooperation between countries, institutions, and communities can lead to reconciliation and deliver important results. I am sure that the Regional Housing Programme will serve as an inspiration for others in similar contexts.”

European Commissioner Várhelyi addresses RHP Final Conference participants (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

These thoughts were echoed by Sevlid Hurtić, Minister for Human Rights and Refugees in the BiH Council of Ministers: “The RHP brought peace to every new home, and contributed to peace and stability across the region,” he said. “The Programme was much more than just a project and numbers – it also enabled access to basic human rights. Conditions have been created for the re/integration of displaced populations, and trust between people and in institutions has been restored.”

BiH Minister Hurtić (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

On behalf of the bilateral Donors to the RHP Fund, Ambassador Andrea Studer, Assistant Director General of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in Switzerland, noted: “Providing homes and perspectives to integrate into societies has brought change for individuals and families who have persevered through adversity. It is commendable how the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia managed to commit and mobilize their resources, and cooperate for the benefit of their citizens.” She additionally expressed gratitude to the CEB, UNHCR and the OSCE for their fundamental role in the success of the RHP.

Swiss Ambassador Studer (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

Speaking on behalf of the CEB, Tomáš Boček, Vice-Governor for Target Group Countries, stated: “We at the Council of Europe Development Bank are deeply proud of our contribution to the RHP. Our role within this flagship refugee housing programme has fit well with CEB’s mission to promote social cohesion throughout Europe, a mission that we have held since our foundation 67 years ago.”

CEB Vice-Governor Boček (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

Addressing Conference participants via video, Helga Maria Schmid, OSCE Secretary General, said: “With roughly 11 300 housing units delivered, we can be very proud. But this Programme was never just about houses and apartments, bricks and mortar – it has been about the approximately 36 000 people who can call these buildings “home”. It is no coincidence that the motto of the OSCE Chairpersonship of North Macedonia this year has been “It’s about people.” And this has certainly been true of the RHP.”

OSCE Secretary General Schmid (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, issued a reminder to not take reconciliation for granted:  “The Regional Housing Programme presents a rare positive counter example to the trends we are otherwise seeing in the world of division and refusal to cooperate. Let us use the RHP as an example of what we can achieve when we work together and focus on finding solutions for people.”

High Commissioner Grandi (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

Social cohesion was also a common theme mentioned by the Partner Countries. Naida Nišić, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare of Montenegro, stated: “Cooperating on the basis of trust, appreciation, dedicated work, and professionalism, guided by the principles of humanity and solidarity, we have witnessed great success.”

Tatjana Vukobratović Spasojević, Acting Director at the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction and State Assets in the Republic of Croatia, also observed: “This Programme was one of the best things that has happened in the region over the last few years. The cooperation between Partner Countries at all levels was excellent. And it has been a privilege to see happiness in the faces of people who were provided with homes.”

Partner Country panel participants (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

Nataša Stanisavljević, Commissioner for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia, likewise pointed out: “The goal of all countries that were involved in this Programme was to contribute to ending the long-term displacement situation in the region by providing permanent and sustainable housing solutions, and we have succeeded in this through joint dedication and determination to work closely together.”

Importantly, the Conference also heard the perspectives of a number of RHP families who had received homes thanks to the RHP. Beneficiary Janja Ždrnja from Serbia stated: “This house is not just a home, but a symbol of hope and resilience. We have finally created a space where our children will be able to dream freely and build their own paths to success without the worries of previous years.”

Beneficiary Mirko Maglov from Montenegro shared the sentiment: “There are no words that could adequately describe the feeling of joy and gratitude that is currently flooding our hearts. This house is not only our safe haven, but also a place where we will create new memories with family and friends,” he said.

Croatian beneficiary Dragana Pešut agreed.I am overjoyed to be a part of this Programme, together with my three children,” she said. “Thanks to everyone, we have a roof over our heads. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

Finally, beneficiary Damir Baručić from BiH reflected on his own experience: “Being a refugee is not easy, but we are finally seeing the light again. This year, we have a new son.. It is difficult to describe the kindness that resulted in our new apartment.” He also thanked the NGO Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for having provided livelihood assistance.

Beneficiary Damir Baručić and son (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)


The Baručić family (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)


Beneficiary Mirko Maglov (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)


Young RHP beneficiary (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)


(Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)


Beneficiary Dragana Pešut (Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)


(Photo by Imrana Kapetanović)

  • 29 Nov, 2023
  • Jovan

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