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German experience in the field of return and sustainable reintegration shows that, although the social and economic reintegration of returnees is a great challenge, cooperation between state institutions, the private sector and civil society in Serbia brings significant results in this area. This was one of the conclusions of the online Re:integrate conference „Towards Sustainable Return and Reintegration” that took place on November 16. The annual conference is organized by the Global Program “Migration for Development” implemented in Serbia by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH since 2016. The Program is part of the global initiative „Returning to New Opportunities“ of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The conference was opened by prof. Dr. Darija Kisić Tepavčević, Minister of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs in the Government of the Republic of Serbia and Mr. Martin Mauthe-Käter, Head of the Sector for Return and Reintegration in the BMZ.

The Minister pointed out that for the Republic of Serbia, the success and sustainability of return does not only mean a step forward on joining the family of European countries, but also an expression of lasting strategic commitment to creating sustainable and effective solutions in support for the returnees.

„Therefore, the experiences from the European Union are very valuable for us, especially from our partners from Germany, as well  as assessments of the situation and proposals for potential additional types of support prepared by the academic community, local self-government units and reference civil society organizations. All the listed factors represent an important empirical basis for the further development of plans of importance and influence on sustainable return,“ said Minister Kisić Tepavčević.

According to the data from the Migration Profile, during 2020, 1,570 requests for readmission were received, 1,191 requests were approved, and 1,008 citizens of the Republic of Serbia returned. Of the total number of readmission requests received, 48.6% were submitted from the Federal Republic of Germany.

„The partnership between Serbia and Germany is very strong. Our countries are not only connected by strong economic and political ties. We are also connected by people. People who migrate to Germany and return. That is why Germany is investing in new opportunities here in Serbia. We want to support our partners in Serbia in establishing a political and economic environment that allows young people to have a perspective in this country, „said Mr. Mauthe-Käter.

He added that close co-operation with the EU is crucial for creating new opportunities for young people and providing assistance to those returning to Serbia.

„I am very encouraged by the great talks I had with Serbian state officials. Germany will continue to support the efforts of our partners in Serbia in accordance with the national strategies and action plans of the Republic of Serbia. In this way, we also contribute to Serbia’s EU accession process,“ he added.

The European Union has adopted the first strategy on voluntary return and reintegration, as well as practical measures to strengthen the legal and operational framework for voluntary return from Europe and transit countries, increasing the quality of return and reintegration programs, establishing better links with development initiatives and strengthening cooperation with partner countries.

Nicola Bertolini, Head of the Cooperation Department of the EU Delegation to Serbia, assessed that the new EU strategy „opens the door for better coordination and sustainability of reintegration than before“ and pointed out that coordination at the national and local level between all institutions and partners is necessary for a successful reintegration. „Sustainable reintegration aims to support not only individuals, but also structures and services that enable reintegration, such as job search, education and training, support for entrepreneurship. Our main goal for many years has been to deal with the basic causes of poverty in the Roma community in Serbia, so that families are not in danger of migrating“, said Bertolini. Currently in Serbia, the EU is funding projects worth 30m euros for Roma inclusion.

The new Strategy is based on initiatives launched in previous years and the experience gained in implementing national and joint voluntary return and reintegration programs, as well as EU-funded initiatives in partner countries.

The latest data from the research on the socio-economic situation and reintegration of returnees, conducted by GIZ in cooperation with the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia, show that during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 there was a sharp decline in departures to the EU countries.

Returnees are increasingly educated, proactive middle-aged and younger people. Most of them only stayed in one of the EU countries for more than 30 days. Returnees do not have a significant problem with personal documents, access to social protection and health care, but they do have a problem with health care costs, finding employment, low income and poor housing conditions. Construction material is still by far the most desirable form of housing assistance, but rural households and social housing are also important. The most desirable types of employment are self-employment and a permanent job in the public sector, shows the research.

Serbia is one of 13 countries in which the Global Program "Migration for Development" is being implemented, as part of a broader initiative "Return to New Opportunities", funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development. Direct assistance is provided not only to returnees to Serbia but also to the local population.  

The conference was attended by more than 100 participants. Representatives of numerous national and international institutions, representatives of the National Employment Service and the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, civil society organizations, national and international experts and researchers in the field of migration spoke at the three thematic panels at the conference.

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