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U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Yugoslavia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Yugoslavia, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
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 year's end, about 550,000 refugees from former Yugoslavia were in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). About 293,000 came from Croatia, almost all ethnic Serbs. The estimated 241,000 Bosnian refugees in Yugoslavia were also overwhelmingly ethnic Serb. Not all former Yugoslav refugees specified their republic of origin. At the end of 1997, UNHCR had extended its mandate to 60 refugees from outside the region.

Late in the year, a new influx of Serbs began arriving from eastern Slavonia, on Serbia's western border, which was scheduled to be transferred to Croatian government control on January 15, 1998. Many of the departing Croatian Serbs had previously been displaced from the Krajina into eastern Slavonia, and were fleeing for the second or third time. By year's end, at least 20,000 Croatian Serb refugees had newly arrived in Yugoslavia.

The wars in Croatia and Bosnia have left Serbia and Montenegro with more refugees than the other four republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia combined. The effects of previous international sanctions imposed against Yugoslavia because of its role in the wars, the machinations of Yugoslav politicians, and a relative lack of international sympathy and support for ethnic Serb refugees have contributed to the precarious economic situation of refugees in Yugoslavia. Without a federal refugee structure, host families, municipalities, and republic governments have shouldered much of the burden of assisting refugees in Yugoslavia's two republics.

At year's end, about 50,000 refugees were still living in collective centers. They reportedly depended entirely on food assistance for their survival. Those living in private accommodations, on average, had incomes of about $20 per month, making them also dependent on humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, in April, UNHCR cut the number of refugees receiving direct food assistance to 250,000.

Yugoslavia's high unemployment rate, about 25 percent, made refugees' attempts to find work and become economically self-sufficient very difficult. Economic hardship worsened during the year, and the number of Yugoslavs below the poverty line doubled (from 1990) to 650,000 (out of a population of 10.6 million).

Women comprised 53 percent of the refugee population, according to the last census, in 1996. Children, age 18 and younger, represented 27 percent, and the elderly, age 65 and older, comprised 12.5 percent. The elderly represented a higher percentage of the collective-center population, 24 percent.

Most of the refugees, about 206,600 were living in the greater Belgrade area. The next largest refugee concentration in 1997 was in the northern province of Vojvodina, hosting about 160,000. Some 28,000 refugees were in Montenegro, and another 14,000 in Kosovo, the overwhelmingly ethnic Serb province in southern Serbia. The remainder were in other parts of central and southern Serbia.

(A month after the transfer of Eastern Slavonia to Croatian government control, Serbian refugee officials estimated that about 60,000 new Croatian Serb refugees had entered Yugoslavia.)

Local Integration A new citizenship law in January appeared to restrict the prospects for refugees to naturalize, and raised the possibility that citizenship could be revoked for other former refugees. The new law makes it difficult for persons born in other former Yugoslav republics to obtain Yugoslav citizenship, particularly if another former Yugoslav republic had granted them citizenship. The law places most former citizens of the old Yugoslavia residing in the present Yugoslavia in one of three categories: those who were citizens of Serbia/Montenegro as of April 27, 1992; those who were citizens of other former Yugoslav republics but were habitual residents of Serbia/Montenegro 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.

Nevertheless, about 60 percent of refugees in Yugoslavia, when polled, have expressed a preference to stay permanently. Since the new citizenship law went into effect, about 30,000 refugees have applied for Yugoslav citizenship to the federal Ministry of the Interior, but few had been naturalized by year's end. Some refugees have reportedly decided not to apply for citizenship, fearing that it would affect their claims for lost property in Croatia or Bosnia. However, federal authorities did not appear to be strictly applying to refugees the new law's time requirements for submitting applications for citizenship.

Both the lack of citizenship and the poor economy impeded refugee integration. Although refugees must serve in the military, they do not have voting rights, and have limited rights to travel and work.

Vojvodina and Kosovo Although some 300,000 ethnic Hungarians remain in the Vojvodina region (in northern Serbia along the border with Hungary), about 30,000 have left during the past five years. The settlement of ethnic Serbian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia into ethnic Hungarian areas reportedly has been a factor prompting the emigration. Many ethnic Hungarians look upon the heavy settlement of ethnic Serb refugees in Vojvodina as a means of shifting the demographic balance in the region.

Repatriating Kosovo Albanians and Muslims from the Sandzak area were routinely detained upon arrival. On November 28, five Kosovo Albanians deported from Germany were denied re-entry. They were held in the Pristina airport for five days before being returned. Germany had rejected the asylum claims of the five.

On December 15, USCR wrote to the Serbian authorities inquiring about the incident and reminding them that human rights law provides for the right of citizens to enter their own countries. Despite an agreement with Germany not to prosecute returned ethnic Albanian draft evaders, the U.S. Department of State, citing the Humanitarian Law Center, reported a pattern of human rights violations against such returnees at the hands of the Yugoslav authorities.

In stark contrast to the rest of Serbia, where the overwhelming majority of refugees live in private accommodations, in Kosovo about 70 percent of the refugees were living in collective centers in 1997. The overwhelming majority of Kosovo's 2 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. Their presence, therefore, exacerbated already strained ethnic tensions in Kosovo.

(In late February and early March 1998, a wave of violence swept through Kosovo, causing about 44,000 persons to flee their homes, including about 20,000 ethnic Albanians from the Drenica area, which bore the brunt of a Serb police crackdown. Among those who fled were about 6,000 persons, mostly ethnic Serbs, to Montenegro. Within weeks, however, more than half of the displaced persons had returned to their homes.)

Repatriation Very few refugees repatriated to Croatia or Bosnia from Yugoslavia during the year. Since the Dayton Agreement was signed (December 1995) through the end of 1997, only 1,115 refugees from Yugoslavia were registered as repatriating to Croatia and 987 to Bosnia. During the same period, 14,152 refugees in Yugoslavia had resettled in third countries. Additional numbers may have repatriated spontaneously without first deregistering. Serbia's commissioner for refugees estimates that about 15,000 refugees may have repatriated spontaneously in 1996 and 1997.

In 1997, UNHCR transported 766 ethnic Serb refugees back to Croatia. During the year, 1,559 Croatian Serb refugees registered with UNHCR to indicate their desire to repatriate. However, of that number, the Croatian authorities only cleared 554 to return. As many as 7,000 others may have repatriated spontaneously during the year, entering Croatia via eastern Slavonia.

In general, more refugees from Croatia were interested in repatriating than refugees from Bosnia. However, according to a 1996 survey, only about 10 percent of the refugees in Yugoslavia said that they wanted to repatriate. Some refugees reportedly feared that if they indicated they wanted to repatriate, they might be forced to do so prematurely. During the year, Yugoslav and Croatian officials negotiated repatriation procedures, but had not agreed by year's end.

In 1997, only 213 refugees were registered as having repatriated to Bosnia‹all to the Federation (the Bosnian Muslim-Croat entity). About 200,000 of the Bosnian Serbs in Yugoslavia originated in the Federation and about 50,000 from Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb entity). During the year, Serbian and Montenegrin authorities discussed with UNHCR the status and possible repatriation of the Bosnian Serb refugees originating in Republika Srpska. UNHCR said that it preferred repatriation procedures to apply to Bosnia as a whole and not to particular entities, but that it was willing to facilitate repatriation both to the Federation and Republika Srpska.

UNHCR and the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees (CRPC) worked during the year to set up a system for registering the property claims of about 6,000 refugees in Montenegro. In November, the CRPC issued its first decisions on claimants in Montenegro.

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