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Returning Home Safely

05 March 1999

Bonn, Germany: For hundreds of thousands of people in Bosnia, the war meant leaving behind them their land and home, family, friends and jobs. Seeking refuge in other parts of the ethnically divided country, or living abroad where the language was new to them and the environment unfamiliar, they nurtured the hope of coming back one day. The UNV programme, with the support of the German and the Japanese Governments, has been able to provide some refugees and internally displaced persons with an opportunity to return to Bosnia as National UN Volunteers. Since 1997 well over 200 of them have worked as NUNVs to help with the postwar rehabilitation of their country. Their efforts help make the peace hold.

Most of the National UNVs have worked with UNDP's Village Employment and Environment Programme (VEEP). With funds provided by the European Community and Japan, this programme offers jobs in Bosnian communities for badly needed reconstruction work. So far, VEEP has organised and completed more than 200 different projects all over the country , including road repairs, river cleaning, reforestation, garbage removal, rehabilitation of water supply, schools and playgrounds, repair of telephone and city utility networks, and tidying up the ruins of war.

Before the war, Fahrudin Dlakic and his wife Edina lived in Visoko, a town not far from Sarajevo where Mrs. Dlakic had a job as an accountant and her husband was head of the municipality's legal department. Concern for their child was one of the main reasons for leaving Bosnia in November 1992. They took refuge in Wuppertal, Germany. Their second child was born there. "The years we spent in Germany were nice. The people we met were friendly and helpful", remembers Edina Dlakic.

Unfortunately, the couple's professional qualifications were not recognised in Germany, but Edina managed to learn German fast and got herself a job in a restaurant. When the opportunity to become a National UNV in Bosnia came up, Fahrudin Dlakic applied and was accepted. After five years, in November 1997, the family could return to Visoko. "Without the contract as a National UNV, I wouldn't have returned at that stage", says Fahrudin.

The Dlakics found the country changed. They had some difficulties in reintegrating into the community. There were people who had stayed on through the conflict and who expressed resentment against returnees. A man like Fahrudin Dlakic who had emigrated was considered by some to have 'deserted' Bosnia. He started to work as a NUNV Municipality Monitor in Visoko with the VEEP programme; and his wife took up the same kind of position only a few months later. They have been in charge of the programme's different projects in the city, managing the recruitment of workers and co-ordinating the activities. The work has been quite different from what the couple did in the past, but they acquainted themselves quickly with their new task and liked it. The work also helped the family to become accepted again within the community. The worry that remains for the Dlakics is about the future. What will happen after their contracts as National UNVs with VEEP have run out? The unemployment rate in Bosnia is high. "We have to think of our children and their education. That's our big responsibility, and if we don't see prospects in our country we will have to look out for something somewhere else," says Fahrudin.

Architect Armin Pirolic from Gornji Vakuf was a refugee in Germany, too. He lived in Stuttgart during the war. Searching for a professional job there, he was confronted with the same problems as the Dlakics, so he began to work distributing newspapers to earn some money. Armin was always determined to return to Bosnia as soon the situation would improve. Accordingly, he gladly accepted the opportunity to work as a NUNV in the VEEP programme and live again in his native town. As a Municipal Monitor, his major problem there has been to negotiate between the different ethnic groups. But with his calm manner and diplomatic skills he has been able to find solutions for all the problems and to also win the respect of the various populations. A few months ago he got married. When asked about his future, he responds with optimism: "These days, there is a lot of work for an architect in my country. So we will see."

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)