Last Updated: Monday, 25 July 2016, 12:45 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Croatia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Croatia , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c15114.html [accessed 25 July 2016]
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, Croatia hosted about 21,900 refugees, including about 20,400 from Bosnia, about 1,600 from Yugoslavia (including about 1,100 from Kosovo), and about 50 from Macedonia. Croatia was also home to some 23,400 internally displaced persons.

At least 272,000 Croatian refugees remained outside the country and in need of a durable solution, including 246,000 in Yugoslavia and 24,000 in Bosnia at year's end. In 2001, Croatian nationals lodged 1,216 asylum applications in Norway, 385 in Sweden, and 292 in Ireland.

The pace of refugee and internally displaced returns slowed in 2001 compared to 2000. About 22,500 refugees and internally displaced persons returned to their places of origin in Croatia in 2001, compared to about 36,000 combined refugee and internally displaced returns in 2000. Croatian authorities estimated that 327,000 persons had returned to their homes since the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, of whom about 223,000 had been internally displaced and 104,000 had been refugees.

Refugees from Bosnia

The 18,587 Bosnians with temporary protected status in Croatia included 12,311 ethnic Croats, 5,477 Muslims, 236 ethnic Serbs, 52 Roma, and 511 of unknown ethnicity. Another 1,834 refugees from Bosnia (mostly Muslim), as well as some Roma and other minorities, were pending resettlement to countries outside the region at year's end. During the year, 635 Bosnian refugees in Croatia were resettled to countries outside the region, the largest number (512) to the United States.

On December 11, 2001, the governments of Croatia and Bosnia signed an agreement to harmonize their plans for the organized, voluntary two-way return of refugees between the countries.

Refugees from Yugoslavia

Only 1,396 persons from Yugoslavia with temporary protected status remained in Croatia at year's end. Most (1,135) were from Kosovo. By ethnicity, the refugees from Kosovo included 606 Albanians, 412 Croats, 48 Muslims, 40 Roma, and 29 others. The 261 from the remainder of Yugoslavia included 192 Croats, 23 Albanians, 14 Serbs, and 31 others. Three refugees from Yugoslavia were resettled from Croatia to countries outside the region in 2001.

De-registration of Refugees and Displaced People

The Croatian government's Ministry of Public Works, Reconstruction, and Construction Office for Expelled Persons, Refugees, and Returnees (still referred to as ODPR, based on its former name, the Office for Displaced Persons and Refugees) de-registered about 10,700 internally displaced persons and 2,673 refugees in 2001. Since the Dayton peace accord, about 150,000 ethnic Croat refugees from Bosnia (120,000) and Yugoslavia (30,000) have been de-registered. Most have obtained Croatian citizenship.

Ethnic Croats, regardless of their previous nationality, are able to gain Croatian citizenship simply by declaring themselves, in writing, to be Croatian citizens. The naturalization process is considerably harder for non-Croats, including habitual residents of Croatia prior to the war in 1991, particularly Serbs and Roma.

Refugee Repatriation to Croatia

During the year, 11,867 refugees, mostly ethnic Serbs, returned to Croatia. Of those, 10,597 repatriated from Yugoslavia and 1,270 from Bosnia. Although the number of ethnic Serbs returning to Croatia in 2001 decreased by 41 percent from the previous year, a larger proportion (58 percent) was between the ages of 19 and 65 than in previous years, when a larger proportion (up to 80 percent) was elderly.

Approximately 104,000 refugees have repatriated to Croatia since the Dayton agreement, about 47,000 of these with the help of the Croatian government or the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since Dayton, about 63,000 refugees have returned from Yugoslavia, 6,000 from Bosnia, and about 35,000 from other countries, mostly in Western Europe.

Despite positive statements and initiatives at the central-government level, many of the obstacles to return that existed before 2001 remained unchanged, resulting in fewer returns than expected during the year. While repatriation movements continued, sustainable return remained elusive, with many returnees reportedly "commuting" between their original homes and their place of asylum.

During September, landmines injured four ethnic Serb returnees. Ethnic Serbs charged that the mines were planted on returnees' properties, since they were found in areas that were never previously mined. In October, ethnic Serb sources claimed that ethnic Serb refugee return to Croatia had virtually stopped because of lack of security for returnees.

In December, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Croatia charged that Croatia's discriminatory housing policies were impeding the return of ethnic Serb refugees to Croatia. A poll of refugees in Yugoslavia indicated that 23 percent of the persons who wanted to return to Croatia had not yet done so, primarily because of problems in recovering their properties.

Obstacles to Repatriation

Since 1995, discriminatory property laws have impeded the repossession of lost properties by (mostly ethnic Serb) pre-war owners. Despite some amendments in property laws to correct discriminatory and contradictory provisions, the legacy of official discrimination against ethnic Serbs has proven hard to remove, and administrative discrimination by local authorities and courts meant that ethnic Serb owners made little progress toward repossessing their properties during the year.

Croatian law continued to favor those who occupy houses rather than the rightful owners. The most controversial properties are "socially owned apartments" – a legacy of former Yugoslavia's socialist past. When the war broke out in 1991, Croatia passed legislation allowing occupants to purchase socially owned apartments. However, by this time many ethnic Serbs had fled their apartments and were unable to reoccupy them because they couldn't establish ownership. Shortly after hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs were expelled from Croatia in 1995, the government enacted legislation to abolish occupancy rights, which made the right of residency conditional on the return of the owner or tenant within 90 days of the law's enactment – a time when Serb refugees were unable to return. OSCE estimates that tenancy laws have denied ownership to ethnic Serb former occupants of 50,000 to 60,000 apartments.

In many cases, authorities settled naturalized Bosnian Croat refugees in the abandoned homes of ethnic Serbs, many in the Krajina region, which had been a Serb stronghold until a Croatian military offensive in 1995 forced up to 200,000 Serbs from the area. The Croat occupants often provided a harsh reception to ethnic Serbs seeking to return to their homes in the Krajina region, and police reportedly often tolerated Croatian harassment of ethnic Serb returnees.

Ethnic Croats owned most of the 105,000 residences that the Croatian government reconstructed (out of an estimated 195,000 destroyed). Because the law had denied government-funded reconstruction to homes destroyed by "terrorist acts" or by the Croatian armed forces, most Serb properties remained unreconstructed. In March 2001, the ODPR said that it would harmonize existing legal regulations to allow "all objects damaged or destroyed in terrorist actions [to] be included in the program of reconstruction." By year's end, however, little progress had been made to provide equitable housing reconstruction.

Another major obstacle to return was multiple occupancy: ethnic Croats who continued to illegally occupy one home (usually Serb-owned) while owning or having tenancy rights in another. The government issued 1,540 eviction notices to multiple/illegal occupants, including 781 cases in which illegal occupants had been ordered to leave immediately and 760 whose original homes had been reconstructed. However, despite sending out warning letters, the government had not taken more forceful eviction measures by year's end. Other types of multiple occupancy that the government generally has not identified include cases where several properties have been allocated to members of the same family, where persons own or occupy properties in both Croatia and Bosnia, and where private property has been taken over illegally for commercial, rather than residential, purposes.

Continuing uneven implementation of the 1997 "convalidation" law also deterred many elderly and disabled Serbs from returning. The law had sought to legitimize administrative documents issued by Krajina Serb authorities during the region's brief secession from Croatian sovereignty; however, most Serb refugees in Yugoslavia and Bosnia were not able to apply for welfare benefits within the limited period provided under the law. Consequently, they risked losing their pensions or disability insurance proceeds – a major disincentive to return, given the bleak employment prospects for elderly ethnic Serbs. At year's end, a backlog of more than 13,000 convalidation cases was pending.

Many habitual permanent residents of Croatia prior to the 1991 war who were not entitled to Croatian citizenship have been unable to return. Such persons need prior permission from the Croatian Ministry of Interior and ODPR before being allowed to repatriate. The Ministry of Interior reportedly often claims that no records exist of the applicants' pre-conflict residence in Croatia.

Many male Croatian ethnic Serb refugees in Yugoslavia who were of military age during the war have not returned for fear of being arrested and accused of war crimes. During the year, 28 repatriating Serbs were detained on return, and charged with war crimes. The U.S. State Department human rights report on Croatia noted that arrests of ethnic Serbs for war crimes continued in 2001 "despite extremely weak evidence." According to the Croatian Public Prosecutor's Office, 1,522 persons were indicted for war crimes between 1991 and 2000, of whom 691 had been sentenced as of November 2001. Most proceedings have been conducted against ethnic Serbs.

Other obstacles to return included petty harassment of returnees, such as cutting electricity to returnees' homes upon repossession, as well as more serious vandalism and looting.

Finally, Croatia's high unemployment rates – as high as 85 percent in many return areas – and dire economic situation offered few financial prospects to entice those of wage-earning age to repatriate.

A new effort to persuade refugees to register for repatriation set a December 31, 2001 deadline for receiving assistance to reconstruct damaged housing. By early December, 13,164 ethnic Serb refugees in Yugoslavia and Bosnia had registered requests to repatriate. Although the applications registered the applicants for housing reconstruction assistance, the registration did not imply restoration of occupancy rights for former occupants of socially owned apartments.

Eastern Slavonia

Some 3,400 ethnic Serbs displaced from other areas of Croatia remained in the eastern Slavonia Danube region in 2001. In all, about 22,200 ethnic Serbs displaced into eastern Slavonia had returned to their homes elsewhere in Croatia.

Some 77,800 ethnic Croats had officially returned to their homes in eastern Slavonia by year's end, including 8,000 in 2001. Although eastern Slavonia remained relatively calm during the year, many of the ethnic Serbs still internally displaced in the region were unable to return to their homes elsewhere in Croatia because ethnic Croats occupied them. As Croats have returned to reclaim their properties in eastern Slavonia, these displaced Serbs have sometimes been evicted without being provided alternative accommodations. Additionally, some of the displaced Serbs whose original houses have been destroyed have been ineligible for reconstruction aid because their homes are deemed to have been destroyed by "terrorist acts."

An estimated three-quarters of Croatia's 23,400 internally displaced persons originated from eastern Slavonia. At year's end, about one-third of the total were displaced within eastern Slavonia, one-third in and around the capital, Zagreb, and one-third scattered around the remainder of the country.

Asylum Seekers

In the absence of an asylum law, which the Croatian Parliament has drafted but not adopted, Croatia's aliens law governed the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. A total of 85 persons applied for asylum in Croatia in 2001, of whom Iranians were the largest group (31). During the year, the Croatian authorities decided 86 cases and granted none. At year's end, 18 cases were pending.

Croatia signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union (EU) in December 2001. The European Commission was expected in 2002 to advise the Croatian government on how to bring its asylum procedures into conformity with EU and international standards.

Search Refworld

Countries