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UNHCR to continue helping Balkans flood victims over the winter

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 7 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has warned that victims of the worst floods to hit Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighbouring Montenegro in decades will continue to need help during the winter months.

The flash floods in early December led to 40,000 people being evacuated from their damaged or destroyed homes, including about 10,000 who were uprooted by violence in the region in the 1990s. Many of these people needed shelter and other assistance.

But Naveed Hussein, UNHCR's representative in Bosnia, said that while the rest of Europe has been enjoying the festive season and although floodwaters had receded almost everywhere, "flood victims continue to ask for help." He said it was "necessary to keep a high level of attention on this vulnerable population. The extent of the problem does not allow us to neglect those affected."

To date, UNHCR has helped around 600 families (2,400 people) affected by the floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina either directly or through its implementing partners, including Techniches Hilfswerk, Catholic Relief Services and Bosnia and Herzegovina Logistics Services. Food and non-food items have been distributed, including blankets, mattresses, jerry cans, firewood and stoves.

Darko Petrovic, a refugee returnee in the eastern Bosnian town of Novo Gorazde, said the material assistance he has been receiving from UNHCR is vital for the survival of his family. Their house was severely damaged and they have been staying in a nearby apartment.

In neighbouring Gorazde, Muzafer Obuca and his family will also rely on help from UNHCR to make it through the cold winter. His house was one of 70 submerged by floodwaters in the settlement of Luka. "A wall collapsed and I barely made it out," he said, adding: "I waited all night on a terrace until rescuers arrived."

In Montenegro, UNHCR and a local NGO partner helped the authorities move some 600 refugees to communal shelters after their settlements were threatened by floodwaters. The agency also provided sandbags to protect the settlements.

The assistance was given to displaced people and vulnerable members of the local communities, especially Roma families who lost their belongings and homes. Katja Saha, UNHCR's acting representative in Montenegro, said the displaced faced a new challenge during the winter and many settlements were under snow.

UNHCR, together with the local authorities and partner organizations, will continue to monitor the living conditions of the flood-affected population and to contribute to relief efforts when possible.