U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Bosnia and Herzegovina , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8cd0.html [accessed 13 July 2014]|
Bosnia and Hercegovina
At the end of 1999, about 830,000 persons were internally displaced in Bosnia, some 487,000 in the ethnic Muslim- and Croat-controlled entity known as the Federation, and 343,000 in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity.
Bosnia also hosted about 60,000 refugees 40,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia and 20,000 refugees of various ethnicities from Yugoslavia. As many as 80,000 refugees fleeing military conflict in Yugoslavia entered Bosnia in 1999. Although more than half had returned by year's end, some Yugoslav refugees mostly Kosovo Roma continued to trickle into Bosnia.
Some 75,000 refugees and internally displaced persons returned to Bosnia during the year. Approximately 32,000 Bosnians repatriated, although many became internally displaced because they were unable to return to their pre-war homes. About 25,000 returned under organized programs (23,000 from Germany). Another 43,000 internally displaced persons returned to their places of origin. In all, approximately 33,000 refugees and internally displaced persons returned to areas controlled by a different ethnic group (so-called "minority returns"), although not necessarily to their pre-war homes. Minority returns included 20,000 to or within the Federation and 13,000 to Republika Srpska.
About 300,000 Bosnian refugees remained abroad in need of durable solutions, including 180,000 in Yugoslavia, 53,000 in Germany, and 23,000 in Croatia. Overall, returns since the December 1995 Dayton Agreement proceeded slowly: some 650,000 refugees and internally displaced persons had returned to Bosnia by the end of 1999. This figure represented less than one-third of those displaced during the Bosnian war. In addition, many returns represented less-than-durable solutions.
Bosnian nationals filed 6,581 asylum applications in other European countries during the year, a decrease of 36 percent from 1998.
Despite encouraging trends, Bosnia still seemed far from fulfilling the Dayton Agreement promise that refugees and displaced people would be able to return to their homes. While political obstacles were paramount, the country's poor economic situation further inhibited faster return. International aid made up about one-third of Bosnia's gross domestic product in 1999. The unemployment rate reached 40 percent in the Federation and 60 percent in Republika Srpska. At least 20 percent of the population lived in poverty. Retirees received their benefits months late. In the Federation, the number of employed workers reportedly equaled the number of pensioners. In this context, both entities had difficulty in absorbing the influx of relocating persons. The majority of returnees remained unemployed after relocating, often living in overcrowded, substandard housing.
Most minority returns were elderly people returning to rural areas. Cities Sarajevo in particular offered more economic opportunities than rural areas. Further skewing returns were thousands of cases of "double occupancy" displaced persons from rural to urban areas who have reclaimed their original property, but do not surrender the city apartments they have occupied since the war.
Refugees from Yugoslavia
By the onset of the NATO bombing campaign on March 24, some 13,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo had already sought refuge in Bosnia. Various affected populations followed suit in the spring months. Between late March and mid-June, another 9,000 ethnic Albanians arrived from Kosovo, as well as 35,000 ethnic Serbs from Serbia many of them refugees from Croatia and Bosnia displaced for the second or third time. Approximately 25,000 Muslims from the Sandjak region of Yugoslavia, a border area overlapping Serbia and Montenegro, also arrived in Bosnia. After June, hundreds of Roma fled to Bosnia as well, fearing persecution in post-cease fire Kosovo.
By late spring, about 4,000 Kosovo refugees lived in collective centers and received humanitarian assistance. In May, the Bosnian government extended a special protection regime for Kosovars to all persons newly displaced from Yugoslavia. Under the program, the refugees received free accommodation, food assistance, primary health care, and education.
Many of these Kosovo-affected refugees left Bosnia by the end of 1999 either to repatriate or emigrate to third countries. About 10,000 ethnic Serbs from Croatia, some 10,000 Bosnian Serbs internally displaced after repatriating from Yugoslavia, and several thousand draft evaders and army deserters from Serbia remained in Republika Srpska. In Federation areas, about 10,000 Sandjak Muslims, primarily in the Sarajevo region, and 8,000 Kosovo Albanians remained at year's end. Hundreds of Kosovo Roma still lived in Bosnia as well.
Friends and relatives accommodated most of the remaining refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expected that local integration would represent the only durable solution for about 10,000 people, many of whom were Serbian draft evaders and deserters unlikely to repatriate in the absence of an amnesty law in Yugoslavia.
Croatian Serb Refugees
UNHCR estimated that Republika Srpska hosted some 40,000 Serb refugees from Croatia at the end of 1999, most of whom were expelled from the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995. Among this group, 10,000 arrived during 1999, primarily from Yugoslavia, where they had previously sought refuge but found themselves once again embroiled in military conflict.
In western Republika Srpska, many Croatian Serb refugees occupied the homes of Croats and Muslims, who were forced out during the Bosnian conflict. Little humanitarian aid reached these refugees in 1999. Few could find work, and most eked out an impoverished existence.
UNHCR estimated that at least 10,000 Croatian Serbs living in western Republika Srpska genuinely wished to return to Croatia. Yet few Croatian Serb refugees in Bosnia have returned since the Dayton Agreement. In 1999, 213 repatriated with international assistance, while 635 visited their home regions to assess their prospects for return.
Obstacles to such returns remained primarily political in 1999: Bosnian Serb leaders appeared to prefer that the refugees remain, to preserve a favorable demographic balance. Similarly, Croatian authorities used settlement incentives and refugee de-registration to discourage the return of ethnic Croats to Bosnia. In four years, fewer than 700 Bosnian Croat refugees had returned to Republika Srpska.
In June 1998, Croatia signed an agreement with Republika Srpska allowing ethnic Serb refugees from Croatia and ethnic Croat refugees from Republika Srpska to exchange homes or seek compensation for their losses. By the end of 1999, ethnic Serbs from Croatia had filed 1,300 applications, and another 3,000 to 4,000 ethnic Serb refugees in Republika Srpska had received the necessary documentation from a newly established Croatian consulate in Banja Luka (Republika Srpska). However, only 240 Croatian Serbs had returned from Bosnia under the program at year's end.
Repatriation to Bosnia
Between the December 1995 signing of the Dayton Agreement and the end of 1999, about 326,000 refugees returned to the Federation, overwhelmingly to majority areas; another 24,000 refugees returned to Republika Srpska, of whom 3,500 were minorities. The International Organization for Migration's Return of Qualified Nationals Program accounted for 2,638 returns, more than half to their places of origin. During the same period, some 30,000 returned from Yugoslavia 95 percent without UNHCR assistance.
During the year, 17,359 Muslims, 5,960 Croats, and 4,370 Serbs repatriated to the Federation one-quarter of the number who returned in 1998. Respectively, 1,962 Serb, 1,081 Muslim, and 339 Croat refugees returned to Republika Srpska 13 percent fewer than in the previous year.
About 78,000 fewer refugees returned to the Federation in 1999 than in 1998, largely because fewer repatriated from Germany. The conflict over Kosovo in the spring also exacerbated ethnic tensions in the region and slowed returns. In addition, most of the "easy" cases had gone home people returning to homes in places controlled by members of their own ethnic group. The large remainder, persons who had fled or been forced out of areas where they would have been in the ethnic minority, encountered daunting obstacles to return, despite Dayton Agreement guarantees for freedom of movement and the return of refugees to their homes.
The conditions of these repatriations often did not amount to a durable solution. More than two-thirds of returnees were unable to return to their homes, becoming internally displaced. Most returnees settled, at least temporarily, in areas where they were in the majority. Many repatriating Muslims who could not return to their homes in Republika Srpska, for example, settled along the Inter-Entity Boundary Line, particularly in the cantons of Una Sana, Sarajevo, and Tuzla-Podrinje. The absorption capacity of these localities was stretched, however. Tens of thousands of relocated returnees who had not registered remained "vulnerable," according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Western European countries (primarily Germany) that had granted temporary protection to Bosnians during the war pressured refugees to return in 1999. In May, UNHCR urged asylum countries not to lift their protection regimes until conditions in Bosnia improved further. UNHCR identified five categories of people at risk: persons who would be part of ethnic minorities upon return; humanitarian cases (the severely traumatized and those in need of special care); persons of mixed ethnicity or in mixed marriages; potentially stateless persons; and other specific categories (including Roma, draft evaders from the former Bosnian Serb Army, and former supporters of Fikret Abdic, who had a following among Muslims in Bihac and sought a separate accommodation with the Serbs during the Bosnian war).
Surveys indicated that relocation to a majority area was voluntary in approximately half the cases, and, similarly, that no more than half the existing refugee populations in Croatia and Yugoslavia wished to return to their pre-war properties. However, UNHCR expressed concern that such voluntary relocations were often induced by political leaders anxious to preserve a favorable ethnic balance. UNHCR believed that 14,500 of the approximately 16,000 Bosnian Croat refugees still in Croatia wished to return to Bosnia (mainly to Republika Srpska).
During the year, 4,330 Bosnians were deported from Germany to Bosnia. Few of the deportees were thought to have had criminal backgrounds, and in most cases they were unable to return to their original homes.
In 1999, about 487,000 of Bosnia's internally displaced persons were within the Muslim-Croat Federation, of whom about 98,000 (9,000 fewer than in 1998) originated from within the Federation and about 389,000 from Republika Srpska (6,000 more than in 1998). Another 343,000 people were internally displaced within Republika Srpska. Of this number, about 298,000 originated from Federation areas (3,000 fewer than in 1998) and 45,000 from within Republika Srpska (1,000 fewer than in 1998).
Internal displacement in Bosnia occurred either between or within entities. Inter-entity displacement constituted the largest group: people unwilling or unable to return to places governed by the same authorities who caused them to flee, and many returning refugees settling at least temporarily in areas where they belonged to (and helped to reinforce) the ethnic majority. Intra-entity displacement resulted both from the Muslim-Croat war of 1993-1994 and the appropriation of urban dwellings by rural displaced persons (a powerful obstacle to minority return).
UNHCR provided humanitarian assistance to 600,000 internally displaced persons, about 70 percent of Bosnia's internally displaced population. Some 11,000 displaced persons resided in collective centers at year's end, 1,000 fewer than in 1998 (and one-quarter of those accommodated at the time of the Dayton Agreement). The Federation's 47 centers hosted 4,900 people. Republika Srpska's 55 centers housed another 6,100. The influx of refugees from Kosovo further stretched the country's reception capacity. UNHCR considered collective center populations as particularly vulnerable.
In 1999, 43,385 internally displaced persons returned to their places of origin 50 percent more than in 1998, when 29,570 internally displaced persons returned. Despite these returns, the overall number of internally displaced people in Bosnia barely decreased from the previous year, as many repatriating refugees became newly displaced. About 10,000 Bosnian Serbs originating in the Federation relocated from Yugoslavia to Republika Srpska at the time of the bombing; and many non-Serb returnees from third countries, originally from Republika Srpska, were forced to relocate to areas of the Federation.
A reported 13,450 of these internally displaced persons returned to Republika Srpska, of whom 1,666 were ethnic Serbs returning to their homes in Serb-majority areas. Between the December 1995 Dayton Agreement and the end of 1999, about 90,500 internally displaced persons returned to Republika Srpska, of whom 78 percent were Bosnian Serbs returning to their majority ethnic area. Nearly 30,000 internally displaced persons returned to their place of origin in the Federation; about 9,600 were ethnic Serbs. Altogether, 205,448 were registered as having returned since the Dayton Agreement.
The 33,000 minority returns in 1999 represented less than one-third of the target set by the international community for 1999. Since the Dayton Agreement, an estimated 114,000 minority returns had occurred. UNHCR identified at least another 14,000 displaced persons who expressed a wish to return within the Federation to their places of origin.
A November survey of displaced persons suggested that residents of the two entities differed sharply in their attitudes toward return. Some 76 percent of respondents residing in the Federation wished to return to their pre-war property, the survey said, while only 34 percent of Republika Srpska respondents expressed such a wish.
Federation Minority Returns
Minority returns, upon which the hopes for an integrated Bosnia rested, progressed slowly during the year. Since the Dayton Agreement, about 91,000 minorities had returned to and within the Federation (20,000 in 1999). This did not take into consideration new displacement since 1996 owing to repatriation from asylum countries, and the departure of 60,000 to 80,000 Serbs in early 1996 when the Federation assumed control of Sarajevo suburbs.
Those minorities allowed to return were often elderly or otherwise perceived as nonthreatening to the controlling majority group. Ironically, return to homes under the control of members of another ethnic group often meant separating families, because able-bodied, military-aged family members were generally not permitted to return.
Ethnic Serbs returning to the Federation to live as minorities accounted for about 33,000 of such returns since the Dayton Agreement; 14,019 Serbs returned to the Federation during 1999, compared to 10,366 the previous year. Deteriorating economic conditions in Republika Srpska and war and economic sanctions in Yugoslavia prompted a surge in spontaneous returns: UNHCR believed that at least 5,500 ethnic Serbs from Republika Srpska wished to return to the Federation. About one-third of returning ethnic Serbs settled in the area of Sarajevo. Other localities to which ethnic Serbs returned as minorities included Drvar (a town with a Serb majority in an ethnic Croat canton), East Mostar, and Zenica.
Although ethnic Croats accounted for the largest number of minority returnees within the Federation since the Dayton Agreement, far fewer Croats returned to ethnic Muslim municipalities in 1999 than did ethnic Serbs. Some 41,000 had returned to live as minorities since December 1995; about 3,500 returned in 1999. Ethnic Croats living as minorities went mostly to Sarajevo, Bugojno, Vares, and Travnik.
Muslim-controlled municipalities demonstrated a far stronger record on minority return than their Croat-led counterparts elsewhere in the Federation. Some 22,000 Muslims had returned to Croat-controlled areas since the Dayton Agreement (of whom 2,500 returned in 1999): twice as many ethnic Croats returned to ethnic Muslim areas than Muslims to Croat areas. Muslims returning to live as minorities settled primarily in Zepce, Jajce, Odzak, and Vitez.
An international conference in early 1998 had set an objective of 20,000 minority returns to the Sarajevo canton for that year, through legislative reforms, housing incentives, and security improvements. Only an estimated 15,000 minority returns occurred in 1998, however. By the end of 1999, some 32,000 ethnic minorities (two-thirds Croats, one-third Serbs) had reportedly returned to the canton since the Dayton Agreement. The rate of property-claim resolution improved, although enforcement of eviction orders lagged.
Republika Srpska Minority Returns
In 1999, 13,292 members of ethnic minorities returned to their places of origin in Republika Srpska, more than in the three previous years combined. UNHCR welcomed this "encouraging breakthrough," particularly because the crisis in Yugoslavia had diverted many international staff and virtually frozen returns through mid-year. Cumulative returns of ethnic minorities numbered 23,090 at year's end. This marked improvement, however, fell short of the ambitious objective of 70,000 announced by Republika Srpska prime minister Milorad Dodik in early 1998 for that same year.
Ethnic Muslims returning to their places of origin (10,587) drove the increase in minority returns to Republika Srpska. Ethnic Muslims returning to Republika Srpska in 1999, including returning refugees, totaled 11,668. A mere 20,678 have returned since 1995, about four percent of all ethnic Muslims expelled from the region during the war. Thousands of the 1999 returns were spontaneous, notably to dozens of villages in the municipality of Zvornik areas to which nearly any return had seemed unlikely until mid-year. About 8,000 applicants filed for the return of their pre-war properties in Banja Luka.
Ethnic Croat minority return to Republika Srpska increased in 1999 but remained limited. Since the Dayton Agreement, 2,053 have returned to their places of origin, more than half in 1999 (1,352).
Open Cities Initiative
In March 1997, UNHCR announced the Open Cities Initiative, a commitment to reward with increased international assistance local communities that demonstrated openness to minority returns. Among the criteria for UNHCR recognition as an "open city" was a "genuine commitment" by local authorities for minority returns and "confirmation that minority returns are occurring or will take place without any abuse of these minorities."
By the end of 1999, UNHCR had recognized 15 open cities throughout Bosnia. UNHCR commended Ilijas, the only municipality recognized in 1999, for issuing eviction notices to occupants of minority-owned premises despite "harsh conditions" prevailing in its villages. The other ten open cities in the Federation were Bihac, Busovaca, Gorazde, Ilidza, Kakanj, Konjic, Travnik, Tuzla, Zavidovici, and Zenica. One city, Vogosca, was "de-recognized" in 1998. Republika Srpska had four open cities: Mrkonjic Grad, Sipovo, Laktasi, and Srbac.
At year's end, nearly 20,000 minorities had been registered as returning to open cities, with Ilidza, Travnik, and Zenica combining for more than half the total.
The main incentive for municipalities to become open cities was the prospect of international project assistance. Open cities were by no means immune to the sort of blockages to return prevailing elsewhere in Bosnia, such as lack of employment and educational opportunities for minority returnees, security fears, and double occupancy. Nevertheless, the international community enjoyed stronger leverage in open cities, and municipal cooperation was generally higher. The Office of the High Representative (OHR), for example, mediated negotiations between the mayors of Gorazde and South Gorazde over the return of 98 Serb families to their occupied pre-war homes.
Surveys of prospective minority returnees showed that physical security and property repossession remained by far their overriding concerns. 1999 brought some improvement in the overall security situation, as incidents of ethnically motivated violence decreased. This was particularly the case in ethnic Muslim controlled municipalities and in urban areas.
However, human rights observers reported a number of serious security incidents during the year, mostly in the ethnic Croat-controlled western part of the country and various areas of Republika Srpska. Bombing attacks targeted ethnic Muslim minority returnees in Vitez, Jablanica, Novi Grad, and southwest Mostar (Federation), as well as in Modrica, Lopare, and Gacko (Republika Srpska). In Drvar (Federation), orchestrated anti-Serb sentiment broke out several times into violence against returnees, including beatings of elderly people. Drvar, populated almost exclusively by Serbs before the war and by Croats afterwards, had 5,000 Serb returns as of July 1999.
Ineffective policing by forces composed predominantly of the local ethnic majority constituted a major obstacle. Fewer than two percent of police officers in Republika Srpska were non-Serb. In the Federation, the recruitment of ethnic minorities into the police was better, with the exception of ethnic Serb officers. Given the imputed involvement of Bosnian police in many of the excesses during the war, and the limited rate of return overall, few minority police officers were willing and able to return to their home regions. Police academies with a mandate to promote a multi-ethnic force opened their doors in the Federation (in April) and Republika Srpska (in July) but were not expected to have a significant impact in the near term.
In light of a particularly poor record of preventing violence against minorities in 1998, the UN Mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina placed the entire police force of ethnic Croat-controlled Stolac (Federation) on probation from February to May 1999 and took steps to reorganize it. As a result, no significant return-related violence was reported during the year, compared to more than 70 incidents the previous year.
Perhaps the most daunting obstacle to minority returns remained the inability of pre-war owners to repossess their lost properties. Many homes of people who were displaced by the war were occupied by other displaced families. The Commission for Real Property Claims (CRPC), established under the Dayton Agreement, had issued some 80,000 decisions by year's end. However, the enforcement rate of these decisions remained extremely low, at perhaps three percent, essentially because of obstruction by local authorities. Furthermore, the CRPC never established a long-awaited fund to compensate displaced persons for irrecoverable property.
To speed up implementation, the international community has encouraged both the Federation and Republika Srpska to bring their legislative framework regarding property into line with Dayton Agreement requirements. Federation laws adopted in 1998 allowed pre-war owners to apply for repossession of their property at the municipality level. Pre-war "social housing" tenants now had a way to reclaim lost occupancy rights (the deadline for these applications was extended three times to October 1999). The CRPC was the final appeal for both procedures. Republika Srpska followed suit by adopting similar claims procedures in December 1998.
However, property repossession rates improved only marginally in 1999. Local authorities still processed applications by ethnic minorities extremely slowly or simply "lost" them. Thousands of dwellings remained unused but controlled by families living elsewhere (the so-called "multiple occupancy" problem). In the Federation, a mere 4 percent of the 68,000 applications for the restoration of tenancy rights, and 15 percent of the 17,000 private property claims, met with success. In Republika Srpska, the figures stood at one percent of 10,000 tenancy rights claims and two percent of 28,000 private property applications. At that pace, observers estimated that return of all displaced persons would take another 22 years in the Federation, and 40 years in Republika Srpska.
Consequently, the High Representative took several forceful measures during the year to unblock the situation, although many eviction orders remained unenforced. He annulled all occupancy rights issued during and after the war and sharply curtailed the power of municipal authorities to allocate socially owned property. In October, he imposed a 90-day deadline both for processing applications and enforcing court orders, and set up administrative sanctions for noncompliance.
While generally satisfied with the measure, ethnic minorities disputed the decision to shorten from one year to 90 days the deadline to reoccupy a home after the restoration of tenancy rights. Lingering hostility toward minorities in many areas and the lack of effective mechanisms to ensure the safety of returnees, they said, made such a requirement unrealistic and unfair.
Other Obstacles to Return
The ruling parties, particularly in Croat- and Serb controlled Bosnia, actively discouraged returns through ethnic engineering and "hostile relocation" the settlement of groups of persons (usually refugee returnees) in housing belonging to another ethnic group for purposes of political control. Such policies undermined multi-ethnic objectives shared by moderate Bosnians and the international community.
Despite some improvement, discrimination by local bureaucracies continued to obstruct returns. Documents issued in one entity were often not recognized in the other. In both entities, obtaining identification and registration documents and public services remained fraught with difficulties and often arbitrarily expensive for minority returnees. The problem was particularly vexing for displaced minorities whom authorities had de-registered during and since the war sometimes without their knowledge, as in Banja Luka in 1995 and 1996.
Laws and practices both in Republika Srpska and the Federation often violated national Bosnian law. Certain requirements in Republika Srpska for issuing identification documents, for example, continued to be ethnicity-related. Similarly, the order a cantonal official in Drvar issued to expel returnees who failed to obtain identification documents within ten days was simply illegal.
In July, the OHR mandated that old identification cards be exchanged for new ones upon request through April 2002.
UNHCR also reported that several municipalities throughout Bosnia, such as Doboj (Republika Srpska) and Livno (Federation), did not comply with a national law adopted in 1998 that harmonized citizenship procedures. The municipality of Doboj (Republika Srpska), for example, continued to issue certificates of citizenship that did not mention the State of Bosnia. UNHCR indicated that the risk of statelessness remained a concern because of the uneven implementation of the citizenship law.
Dwindling international aid also slowed returns. This included delays in disbursing assistance promised the previous year, and a decline in new commitments. Some minority returnee families awaiting reconstruction help, notably in Drvar, reportedly had to return to the areas to which they had been displaced because they had not received the funds promised by the international donors.
The international administrators of Bosnia worked hard during the year to encourage authorities both in the Federation and Republika Srpska to implement the Dayton Agreement fully, particularly "Annex Seven" that covers refugee return. As a result of such pressure, for instance, Republika Srpska broadened in July its existing amnesty law, which may encourage minority return.
In many cases, the OHR sought to overcome political obstruction through decrees. The imposition in 1998 of uniform license plates throughout the country was considered a success. In February, the OHR took a similar measure for driving licenses, the principal means of identification in Bosnia, to encourage minority travel and spontaneous return. (Several dozen bus lines between Federation and Republika Srpska areas were also operational.)
The OHR also pressed Bosnia to adopt a new electoral law. The proposed legislation would uphold the right of refugees and internally displaced persons to vote in their municipalities of origin. Local elections were scheduled for April 2000, national elections for October 2000.
In March 1999, following several postponements during the previous two years, international arbitration proclaimed Brcko a shared "condominium" between the Federation and Republika Srpska. The town, located at the narrowest point of the northeastern corridor linking Serb-controlled eastern Bosnia and Serb-controlled northern Bosnia, is strategically critical both to Bosnian Serbs and Muslims. Nationalists on all sides were intent on using displaced persons or returnees to stake territorial claims. Serbs, a minority in pre-war Brcko, had taken control of the town in May 1992, and violently expelled 40,000 to 60,000 Croats and Muslims from the area.
The arbitrator ruled that Brcko would remain under the control of an international supervisor, but that the common institutions of the state of Bosnia and Hercegovina would become responsible for the area. In practice, observers noted that Brcko's three ethnic enclaves retained separate administrative existences. Nevertheless, both the security situation and the rate of minority return slowly improved after the award.