Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Yugoslavia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Yugoslavia, 1 January 1997, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
At the end of 1996, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), composed of the republics of Montenegro and Serbia, hosted about 300,000 registered refugees from Croatia and 250,000 from Bosnia and Hercegovina (hereafter Bosnia). About 15,000 persons from Macedonia and Slovenia were also registered as refugees.

Refugee Policies The wars in Croatia and Bosnia have left Serbia and Montenegro with a greater number of refugees than the other four republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia combined. The effects of previous international sanctions imposed against the FRY because of its role in the wars, the machinations of FRY politicians, and a relative lack of international sympathy and support for ethnic Serb refugees have contributed to the precarious economic situation of refugees in the FRY. The lack of a federal refugee structure has meant that host families, municipalities, and republic governments have had to shoulder much of the burden of assisting refugees in the FRY's two republics.

In both Serbia and Montenegro, a refugee commissioner is responsible for refugees from the other former Yugoslav republics. In previous years, authorities in Serbia forcibly conscripted ethnic Serb refugees and sent them to Croatia or Bosnia for military service, a practice that dissuaded many male refugees from registering their presence. Also in previous years, the commissioner in Serbia reportedly refused to register thousands of male refugees who could not present a waiver from Serb military authorities in Bosnia or Croatia. Montenegro, the only republic of the former Yugoslavia consistently to employ an open-door policy for new refugees fleeing the other former Yugoslav republics, has been more willing than Serbia to receive, register, and protect ethnic Serb male refugees of draft age.

At the beginning of 1996, the federal government asserted that some 650,000 refugees or "expellees" (the distinction between the categories carried no legal weight) were registered in the FRY, and that as many as 100,000 others were unregistered. At the time, international agencies provided food assistance for about 330,000 refugees. The government and UNHCR agreed to conduct a census in 1996 to determine the number of refugees in the country.

During the first half of 1996, more than 40,000 Bosnian Serbs arrived in the FRY, according to the two commissioners' offices. About three quarters had left suburbs of Sarajevo that were to fall under the control of the Bosnian Federation; most of the remainder left areas in and around the "zone of separation" between Bosnian Serb and Bosnian government or Croat forces. Although the Serbian commissioner initially indicated that new arrivals from these areas would not be granted status in Serbia, they were in fact allowed to register as refugees.

Refugee Census During April through June, UNHCR funded a census of the refugee population that was carried out by the commissioners in the two republics. The official results indicated that Serbia hosted 538,000 refugees, while Montenegro hosted 28,000 refugees. All but about 8,000 were ethnic Serbs. The 566,000 persons registered as refugees included about 15,000 persons from Slovenia and Macedonia. About 22 percent of those who participated in the census (about 125,000 people) were not registered previously.

One of UNHCR's primary interests in supporting the census was to determine refugee attitudes regarding durable solutions. Only about ten percent of the refugees said that they hoped to repatriate. Reportedly, some refugees feared that if they indicated they wanted to repatriate, they might be forced to do so prematurely. International observers indicated that some Serbs living in Bosnia may have crossed into Serbia to participate in the census.

Historically, most refugees in the FRY have lived in private accommodations, with only 10 to 15 percent living in the nearly 800 collective centers scattered throughout the country. Serbia's northern province of Vojvodina hosted about 40 percent of the refugees in that republic.

In stark contrast to the rest of Serbia, about 75 percent of the 15,000 refugees in the southern province of Kosovo at year's end lived in collective centers. The overwhelming majority of Kosovo's two million inhabitants are ethnic Albanian, and many observers and refugees alike saw the government's placement of ethnic Serb refugees in Kosovo as an attempt to increase the Serb population of that province.

In February, a coordinated, one-day bombing campaign hit five refugee centers in Kosovo. No injuries were reported. Although alleged Albanian nationalists later claimed responsibility for the blasts, it was unclear who planted the bombs, or why. In April, two Serb refugees were shot to death during an attack on a Serb restaurant in Kosovo. UNHCR did not believe that the two were killed because they were refugees.

Repatriation Most independent observers believed that the prospects for repatriation from the FRY to both Bosnia and Croatia were poor, given the political climate in those two countries.

In August, the FRY and Croatia signed an agreement normalizing relations between the two countries. Both pledged to allow the free and safe return of refugees and to ensure that returnees would retain control of their possessions or receive fair compensation for lost property. However, the agreement did not result in large numbers of returns.

Although Croatia reported that it had cleared some 13,000 refugees to repatriate, independent observers could not corroborate the claim. The Croatian government required that applications for permission to repatriate be submitted via relatives still in Croatia, and did not permit UNHCR to submit such applications of behalf of refugees. After refugees received clearance to repatriate, they approached UNHCR for transportation assistance.

During 1996, UNHCR assisted in the repatriation of 354 refugees from the FRY to Croatia.

In December, the Serbian commissioner reported that she hoped to sign a memorandum with Bosnian Serb authorities regarding repatriation in early 1997. During 1996, UNHCR assisted in the repatriation of 771 refugees from the FRY to Bosnia. Most were Muslims or members of mixed-ethnicity families who returned to Bosnian Federation territory. Other refugees repatriated to Bosnia without UNHCR assistance, but definitive numbers were not available.

Refugees in Detention In January, USCR called on governments to offer resettlement to Bosnian Muslims whom Serbian authorities were detaining in two centers near the Bosnian border, and who had not yet been offered resettlement places abroad. Members of this group were among the nearly 800 Bosnian Muslims who had entered Serbia following the fall of the mostly Muslim "safe areas" of Zepa and Srebrenica during mid-1995. Others in the group were resettled by the United States and other countries. Following the USCR appeal, the United States reportedly offered to resettle all remaining members of the group. Eventually, an additional 200 members of the group were resettled, leaving about 225 in Serbia. In April, 220 Bosnians who did not desire to be resettled repatriated. They were followed on May 1 by the remaining members of the group.

New Citizenship Law During 1996, the FRY enacted a new citizenship law that could have significant impact on refugees when it takes effect on January 1, 1997. The law places most former citizens of the old Yugoslavia residing in the FRY in one of three categories: those who were citizens of Montenegro/Serbia as of April 27, 1992; those who were citizens of other former Yugoslav republics but were habitual residents of Montenegro/Serbia as of April 27, 1992; and those who were citizens of other former Yugoslav republics and who fled to Serbia/Montenegro because they feared persecution.

All noncitizens who wish to receive citizenship must apply to the federal Ministry of the Interior. At year's end, it appeared that federal authorities were willing to exempt persons in the third category – refugees – from any stringent time requirement for submitting applications for citizenship.

Asylum Seekers UNHCR has continued to evaluate the claims of asylum seekers originating outside the former Yugoslavia. During 1996, some 77 such cases (representing 114 persons) approached UNHCR seeking status determinations and/or resettlement abroad. During the year, UNHCR did not recognize any refugees under its mandate in the FRY, rejecting 32 cases (representing 45 people) and closing 47 other cases (representing 70 people), most of whom did not pursue their original claims.

Return to Serbia Tens of thousands of FRY citizens, many of them ethnic Albanians from the formerly autonomous province of Kosovo in southern Serbia, have sought refuge in Western European countries. In 1994, the FRY imposed travel restrictions that made it more difficult for returnees – including some voluntary returnees – to reenter the FRY. Those restrictions officially remained in place throughout 1996.

Among those most affected by the restrictions were persons who had sought asylum in another country and who lacked certificates issued by an FRY consular office authenticating their travel documents. In March, six ethnic Albanians returning from Germany were detained overnight by police at the Pristina airport, in Kosovo, and then sent to Belgrade. They were then returned to Germany.

In October, USCR wrote to the Serbian authorities regarding the alleged ill treatment of an ethnic Albanian who was returned to Serbia from Germany in September. Reportedly, Serbian police beat the man while they interrogated him about the political activities of ethnic Albanians in Germany. In its letter, USCR expressed concern about an imminent return agreement between Germany and the FRY, and urged Yugoslav authorities to "guarantee that all returnees will be treated in conformity with international human rights treaties."

On October 10, Germany and the FRY signed a bilateral readmission agreement, which took effect on December 1. Despite the agreement, several persons returned by Germany in December were rejected at the Pristina airport. Germany has not asked UNHCR to monitor returnees, nor has it informed UNHCR about such returns.

Search Refworld