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November 1997
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Bosnia: Dayton will collapse unless refugees return More information
 
 
     The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that the Bosnian peace agreement could collapse unless refugees are allowed to return to their homes. The agency insists that there could be no lasting peace and stability unless refugees could go back to their homes in areas of Bosnia where they are a minority.
 

 By the time the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in December 1995, there were more than one million refugees internally displaced in Bosnia. Another million or more had been forced to escape to some 25 other countries, mainly in the republics of former Yugoslavia and western Europe. Under the Dayton Agreement, UNHCR is responsible for the return of these people, either to their original homes or to areas of their choice.

 An estimated 250,000 refugees and internally displaced people returned to their homes during 1996 and some 200,000 refugees are expected to return this year. The success of the whole repatriation program depends on many factors including housing reconstruction or rehabilitation, safety of returning refugees, demining and the full implementation of the human rights provisions set up under the Dayton Peace Agreement.

 Nationalist authorities in Bosnia have tended to permit only members of their own ethnic community to come home, in violation of the Agreement. European Union countries have begun officially suspending diplomatic contacts with Bosnia over the country's failure to comply with provisions of the Dayton peace accords.

 Dayton's limitations

 In a clear demonstration of the limitations of the Dayton peace agreement in its stated aim of returning Bosnia to a multi-ethnic society, Muslim refugees who have recently tried to return to three villages near the Croat-dominated town of Jajce in Bosnia have been forced to flee. A large crowd of Croats appeared and forced them to turn back. Police and soldiers with the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) were powerless to prevent their departure as they have no mandate for maintaining civilian law and order. In a separate incident, a man was burnt to death in a house near Jajce. 

Muslims had begun to trickle back to their homes but intimidation from local Croat crowds forced them all to leave. Most refugees had not seen their homes since they left the village under Serb persecution in 1992. All houses have been destroyed. The returning refugees had brought spades and shovels with them to begin the mammoth labour of rebuilding their village. 

The incidents happened despite an agreement, announced on August 29, between Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia to allow up to 40,000 refugees to return to their pre-war homes. A UNHCR spokeswoman had called the accord a political breakthrough on the return of minorities.

 Elections seen as protest

 The will of ordinary Bosnians to oppose the fragmentation of the country into 'ethnically pure' area without minorities was clearly expressed during local elections held in September. 

Thousands of refugees crossed the former battle lines to stake their claims to return to the homes they were expelled from during the civil war. Many travelled and queued for hours to vote where they once lived. The elections may once again change the ethnic makeup of towns and villages radically after the dramatic shifts in population brought about by the war. 

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), that organised the poll, reported that 89 per cent of those eligible to vote registered in their pre-war hometowns.

 International officials reported little violence during the electoral process in general. Voting was held just outside the towns and villages to prevent incidents between refugees and the hard-line nationalists controlling the areas. Refugees who survived the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 were allowed to vote in a small field near their town.

 There were some problems in the northern town of Drvar. Some 2,000 Serb refugees returned to there to vote. Croats, who seized the region two years ago, stopped the buses carrying them, and more than 1,000 Serbs were forced to spend the night camped along a rainy road. International officials accused the Croats of slowing the election process so fewer Serbs could vote. 

Refugees return from Germany

 The situation in Bosnia is not exactly ideal for refugees to return but European countries are eager for them to leave. Germany took in about 323,000 people during the war, more than the rest of the European Union put together. 

Most Germans welcomed the refugees with enthusiasm, providing shelter and about $500 per family per month in spending money. Much of this money was sent to relatives who stayed behind in Bosnia. Supporting the refugees since 1991 has cost the German government more than $8 billion. 

Some 85,000 refugees have left Germany voluntarily so far this year, as a result of pressure from cash-strapped German states (lander), and 20,000 of them were expected to leave by the end of the year. 

Despite widespread international criticism, some German states began forcibly repatriating refugees late last year after efforts to encourage voluntary returns failed. The pressure to leave or face deportation apparently prompted many to go on their own. Some 800 refugees, half of whom had been convicted of crimes in Germany, were expelled after they refused to return to Bosnia.

 Other states have delayed the expulsions because the refugees either have nowhere to go to or face persecution by other ethnic groups. 

Bosnian refugees in Switzerland 

Similar problems exist in Switzerland. The country accepted some 25,000 Bosnian refugees. Some 5,000 of them were given refugee status or some other kind of humanitarian status which would allow them to stay. Of the rest some 8,000 are affected by the August 31 deadline by which single people or those without children should have left the country. 

While UNHCR supports the return of Bosnians to majority areas, the agency is opposed to the forcible expulsion of Bosnians to areas where they would be in the minority.

 Categories of refugees at risk where UNHCR does not believe repatriation is feasible include the following: 
 
 

    1. People returning to areas where they would no longer be in the majority 
    2. People of mixed ethnic group or in mixed marriages 
    3. Special cases with a history of previous persecution. 
    4. People who served in armed forces controlled by an ethnic group of which they were not a member. 
    5. Potentially stateless people 
    6. Individuals in need of special care 
    7. Other categories e.g. prominent opposition members, journalists, who could be at risk.
 
     European Union countries have begun officially suspending diplomatic contacts with Bosnia over the country's failure to comply with provisions of the Dayton peace accords.
 
 
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