ADDRESS by Н.Е. Zoran Jolevski Minister of Defence of the Republic of Macedonia at the Ministerial meeting Central European Defence Cooperation (CEDC) + LBN, MKD, MNE, SRB Defence Ministers Meeting – VIENNA, 31 March to 1 April 2016) Working Session ”Refugee Crisis – Western Balkan Route”

Allow me at the outset to thank Mr. Hans Peter DOSKOZIL, Minister of Defence and Sports of the Republic of Austria, for his hospitality and his efforts to organize this meeting dedicated to the refugee crisis and the Balkan route. Thank you Hans Peter for your leadership.

At the very outset, I would like to express Macedonia’s gratitude for the support you have all provided. It is a proof that together we are stronger and better able to protect our national interests.

As European countries, we must bear in mind the great sufferings of the refugees and their need for a humane treatment and respect of the universal human rights. I am often present on the border between Macedonia and Greece. It is necessary to invest a great effort and resources to meet their needs.

The security of the South East European countries is indivisible and closely linked to Europe’s security. Almost all countries in this region are facing similar challenges and their security is interconnected and we are mutually interdependent. The security challenges spill over from one country to another and they cannot be solved without sincere cooperation and investment of major national efforts.

I would like to take this opportunity to underline that the Republic of Macedonia has dealt with the migrant crisis appropriately and the state institutions acted in a coordinated manner. However, the good coordination and cooperation that we have established with you, the countries along the Balkan route, was key to the achieved success.

If we had not coordinated jointly the measures we undertook, we could have faced an even greater challenge, since in the first two months of this year, the number of migrants that entered Macedonia was 10 times bigger compared to the first two months in 2015. Of course, we must still work on further enhancement of a comprehensive joint approach and a solution in line with the national interests, respecting at the same time the universal human rights and freedoms.

I am proud that Macedonia has proved with your help that it is a capable partner you can rely on. A partner you can trust. First, at the beginning of the nineties, the broader international recognition of my country and the Euro – Atlantic integration process were blocked by our southern neighbour. And why? Because of the name of my country, the name of my people and the name of my language. However, the Republic of Macedonia, although waiting at the doorstep of NATO and the EU, is undertaking obligations as a true member of these alliances. We are now defending the Schengen border; together with the allies, our soldiers in Resolute Support and before that in the ISAF, have defended freedom, democracy and peace in Afghanistan, in order to create conditions for better life of the Afghan people so that they do not have to seek shelter here in Europe, far from their homes. With our economic policies, we are contributing to a stronger European economy. Our economic growth in the past 10 years has constantly been among the three highest in Europe, our debt is 2/3 of the maximum determined by the countries in the Euro – zone. This is our response to the blockage of our southern neighbour.

Last Monday, I had dinner in Skopje with an old friend of mine, Amin Awad, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau and Refugee Coordinator in the UNHC Secretariat for Refugees. Our friendship dates back from 1999, when we worked together during the Kosovo refugee crisis. Our conversation was friendly, genuine and open. It was not formal, since it was not a formal meeting, but a private visit to Macedonia.
During our conversation, I asked him a number of questions, which I suppose you would ask as well: “How many refugees have left Syria and how many refugees / migrants are expected to arrive to Europe and when will this migrant wave come to an end?“

You suppose that it is extremely difficult to get an answer to such questions. Amin mentioned several things, but in the interest of your time and focus, I will share three of them:
- First, I was very pleasantly surprised when he underlined that it is necessary to start working on a plan for repatriation. It will take time to create conditions for implementation of such a plan, but it was for the first time since the beginning of the Syrian crisis that Amin mentioned the world repatriation;
- Second, his assessment is that the dramatic wave of migrants towards Europe is linked, inter alia, with the shortage of funds for the refugees / migrants. As he said, the UNHCR assesses that there are seven reasons why the refugees / migrants leave the countries that are their immediate neighbours. They are: losing hope that there will be a political solution to the conflict; a feeling of insecurity and vulnerability; increased poverty in the countries where they were initially granted an asylum; limited possibilities for living and unemployment; insufficient assistance; difficulties to be allowed a legal stay; and limited education possibilities. He said that if greater funds are provided for the humanitarian organizations, it can help stabilize the situation, reduce the migrant waves and the refugees will perhaps assess that they may have a future in the countries where they were initially granted an asylum while the conditions are created for their returning home. Experience shows that there is a greater probability for the migrants to return to their homes, once the security conditions have been created, of course, if they are in the countries that are immediate neighbours to their own country. Once they reach Europe, the probability for their returning to their homes is very low. We must not forget that most of the migrants that come to Europe belong to the most educated and quality part of the population with working abilities. This is a loss for their originating countries, that is, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.
- Third, an average refugee crisis lasts for many years. Although some are under the impression that a refugee crisis lasts for 6 months or a year, it takes several years for the displaced persons to actually return to their homes.
Why I mentioned this. We, Europe, need a comprehensive strategy for overcoming the challenges that arise from the largest crisis after the Second World War. This strategy should involve Europe, as well as the countries that are not members of the EU, such as my own country, Montenegro, Serbia and others. It should involve Turkey as well. The strategy should provide an answer how to stabilize the situation in Syria and Iraq.
We managed to close the so-called Balkan route. However, in order to create a sustainable result, we must demonstrate that we are resolute and persistent in our intentions. We must work in parallel on creating conditions for the refugees to remain in the countries of their immediate neighbourhood where they became asylum seekers. Most importantly, the entire international community should work on creating safe conditions for returning to their homes, supported by a robust plan for reconstruction of the destroyed areas and providing conditions for their existence in their own countries.

Therefore, I would like to reiterate my gratitude to our hosts, especially to our dear colleague Hans Peter.

Thank you.