Former NBA star becomes humanitarian hero

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images It’s been almost 10 years since the Kosovo crisis, and 15 since the wars in Bosnia and Croatia — long enough for the world to have “more or less turned its back” on the region, former FP managing editor and negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords Richard Holbrooke recently complained in the ...

595222_080501_divac2.jpg
595222_080501_divac2.jpg

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It’s been almost 10 years since the Kosovo crisis, and 15 since the wars in Bosnia and Croatia — long enough for the world to have “more or less turned its back” on the region, former FP managing editor and negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords Richard Holbrooke recently complained in the Washington Post.

The world may have moved on to bigger and bloodier conflicts, but one former NBA star is staying his ground. Serbia’s Vlade Divac, a versatile center in L.A. and Sacramento before his retirement in 2005, has taken on the refugee crisis that continues to plague his home country. Under the banner of “You Can Too,” Vlade and his wife have been raising awareness and money to improve the lives of Serbia’s 6,748 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The refugee problem today is a fraction of what it once was (almost 530,000 registered with Serbia at the end of the Kosovo war), but those who remain live in deplorable conditions. Tension between locals and refugees often ran high during my stay in Belgrade last year, with the refugees serving as a constant reminder of the Kosovo war and its messy aftermath. To make matters worse, refugees from Kosovo are still deemed IDPs, rendering them ineligible for the kind of international aid available to officially recognized refugees. They will remain IDPs until a U.N. resolution decides Kosovo’s final status (read: never).

But the Divacs are not discouraged. Since launching their campaign last September, they have raised 1 million euros –- enough to provide new homes to 75 families, or about 400 people.

What about today’s hot spot? Current stats show that Iraq has produced more than 2 million refugees and 2.7 million IDPs. With UNHCR efforts underfunded and with few displaced Iraqis planning to return home, perhaps the NBA should start ramping up its Middle East recruitment. After all, someone’s got to clean things up when the dust settles.

Lucy Moore is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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