ASB in the Republic of Croatia

In 2009, ASB organised three workshops for representatives of national minorities and CSOs in Western Slavonia with respect to monitoring, analysing and advocating minority rights. One of these workshops took place in Lipik. In the Republic of Croatia, the Office of the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund Deutschland e.V. (ASB) has been active for the past 17 years helping all dispossessed people to restore their lives and build secure and better living conditions through a variety of programmes. ASB started its operations in 1991 by providing emergency relief to displaced persons (DPs) in collective centres on the Dalmatian coast which was funded by private donors.

In 1996, ASB received a mandate from the European Community to implement the reconstruction programme (OBNOVA programme) in Eastern Slavonia and in 1997, ASB started a European Union pilot project for the two-way return between Western and Eastern Slavonia. In 1999, ASB extended the reconstruction programme to the north and south of Croatia (Banovina and Kordun, Lika and Northern Dalmatia). In 2000, the EU launched the CARDS Assistance Programme as a part of the Stabilisation and Association process. Following this, ASB was awarded a contract by the European Commission (EC) to implement the European Union Programme for Reconstruction and Return (EUPOP - Europska unija program obnove za povratak) under the CARDS 2000 programme. The EUPOP presented an integrated approach focused on supporting the return, reintegration and reconciliation process of refugees and DPs in Croatia and achieving the sustainability of that process.

This extensive reconstruction and return assistance provided by ASB culminated in the large scale CARDS 2001 project in 2002, which was implemented in 26 EUPOP municipalities in Croatia. Under this programme, ASB carried out the reconstruction of 573 houses of cat. 1-3 with technical assistance from two local non-governmental organisations: the Serbian Democratic Forum (SDF) and Zvonimir, and the reconstruction of 424 houses of cat. 4-6 along with the reconstruction of technical and social infrastructure, economic assistance and mine-clearance. However, unlike previous projects, this CARDS 2001 programme included a component for the removal of obstacles to refugee return which consisted of a Survey and Assessment of State-owned Apartments (SASA) and Capacity Building Initiative and Technical Assistance to Local Authorities (CAPITAL). The implementation of these programmes was carried out in close co-operation with the Croatian Government, the Ministry of Sea, Tourism, Transport and Development, local authorities and other local and international NGOs present in the region.

ASB has also been implementing projects with financial assistance from individual EU Member States and other donors such as the German, Austrian, British, Norwegian, Dutch and Belgian Governments, USAID etc. In 1996, Belgium Government, invested funds for the purchase of a previously owned crane for the port of Vukovar along with repair of port facilities. In 2006, ASB continued to implement projects funded by this government such as were two projects which significantly contributed to the economic development of the Croatian Danube Region and beyond. The first project was the reconstruction of the Bogojevo/Erdut Danube River railway bridge which assisted in the resumption of the railway traffic between Croatia and Serbia. The second project was the purchase of new crane with 16t lifting capacity for the port of Vukovar which increased, improved and modernised reloading capacities at the port and raised the quality of services.

In particular, the German Government has been a valuable partner of ASB for years in implementation of projects such as mine-clearance, reconstruction of houses of cat. 1-3 and the provision of humanitarian aid. Since 2004, ASB implemented German-funded emergency repairs to 897 destroyed houses cat. 1-3 in Croatia valued at over €3.4 million. From 2001 to 2007, ASB conducted mine-clearance of more than 5 million m2 at value of €5.9 million in Croatia focusing on private property, public areas as well as agricultural and industrial areas with funds from the same donor while the European Commission allocated €909,660 for mine-clearance of 617,549 m2, in close co-operation with the Croatian Centre for Demining in Sisak.

Despite this significant contribution to reconstruction, return and development process carried out by ASB, the economic recovery of the war-affected areas in Croatia still remains slow. Therefore, in 2006 ASB was awarded a contract for the implementation of the Tourism Development Project under the CARDS 2003 programme in the Town of Petrinja in co-operation with the Tourist Association of Petrinja and the Town of Petrinja. The value of this project was €245,594, which was finalised in November 2007. The aim of this project was the revitalisation of tourist activities in the wider Petrinja area, economic development, capacity building and development of human resources at the local level, valorisation of tourist potentials, and the use of natural and cultural/historical resources. In view of this, ASB reconstructed a mountaineering lodge and hiking trail on Hrastovačka Gora, 10 natural water springs along the various walking trails in Petrinja and tourist signposting in Petrinja which will significantly improve the tourist offer in Petrinja and attract more tourists to visit this area. In addition, this will in longer-term increase the level of income for inhabitants, their living standards and quality of life in the region, thus attracting further return and preventing re-fight in the near future.

Under the CARDS 2004 programme, ASB is currently implementing a project to develop rural tourism in the border area of Knin in Šibensko-kninska County, Croatia and the town of Bosansko Grahovo in BiH, which has been implemented in co-operation with the NGO "Hoću kući", Knin, and the municipality of Bosansko Grahovo since 2008. The aim of this project is the economic and social revitalisation of rural areas of the municipalites of Knin and Bosansko Grahovo, improvement of the quality of life, decrease of the demographic downfall in these rural areas as well as better cross-border co-operation. At the same time, under the same CARDS 2004 programme ASB is also implementing a project to provide social services to the elderly through the home care services in the municipalities of Majur and Kukuruzari and the town of Hrvatska Kostajnica in Sisak-Moslavina county in co-operation with the NGO "Novi Svijet". Under this project, 255 elderly beneficiaries who live in remote villages in these municipalities receive home care services such as basic home maintenance, firewood chopping and stacking, transportation to medical treatment facilities, medication deliverly etc.

In 2009, ASB started to implement a new EU-funded project "Young Entrepreneurs - Strive for More!" in the town of Knin, Šibenik-Knin County, in close co-operation with the local NGO "Hoću kući" from Knin, the "Kralj Zvonimir" vocational high school from Knin, "Lovre Monti" high school from Knin and the "Marko Marulić" College from Knin. The total value of this project amounts to €60.410,00. The objective of this project is to mobilise, educate and motivate youth from 14 to 29 in Knin to participate in community development. In view of that, ASB will organise capacity building and educational workshops on business administration for high school and college students helping them to establish businesses, marketing and strategic plans, visions, missions etc.

Along with this project, in 2009 ASB in Croatia received funds from the EC to implement another new project, which focuses on developing and consolidating democracy, the rule of law and respect for human and minority rights through strengthening the reconciliation process and citizens' participation in the decision-making process. This project is implemented in the towns of Pakrac and Lipik and in the municipality of Okučani in partnership with the Serbian Democratic Forum (SDF) The total value of this project is estimated at €124,973.

Since 1996, ASB has implemented projects valued at €83 million in Croatia with funding from the European Union and individual Member States. Since 1996, ASB reconstructed more than 4,235 destroyed housing units and carried out numerous projects in the field of mine-clearance, reconstruction of war-destroyed houses, technical, social and economic infrastructure, sustainability measures and capacity building.