U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Yugoslavia
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 January 1999|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Yugoslavia, 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c4b.html [accessed 20 January 2018]|
|Disclaimer||This 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 1998, Yugoslavia hosted about 498,000 refugees, 297,000 from Croatia and 201,000 from Bosnia, almost all of whom were ethnic Serbs. About 50,000 refugees arrived during the year from Croatia. Some 40,000 Bosnian and Croatian (ethnic Serb) refugees were living in collective centers at year's end, of whom about 7,000 were living under dangerous circumstances in Kosovo.
Although the numbers changed rapidly during the year, and estimates varied widely, UNHCR estimated that some 257,000 people were displaced within Yugoslavia at the end of 1998, of whom 180,000, almost entirely ethnic Albanians, were displaced within Kosovo, 50,000, predominantly ethnic Serbs from Kosovo, were displaced into Serbia, and 27,000, both ethnic Serb and Albanian, were internally displaced from Kosovo into Montenegro. The year-end figure for internal displacement reflected the return of more than 100,000 internally displaced people after the signing of the October 13 agreement between U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) President Slobodan Milosevic and the cease-fire that shakily held through year's end.
An estimated 100,000 people from Yugoslavia (mostly ethnic Albanians from Kosovo Province) sought asylum in various European countries in 1998, about 27 percent of all asylum claims in Europe during the year.
In late February and early March 1998, a wave of violence swept through Kosovo, a province that was more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian. The early spring violence caused 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. Fighting and displacement continued to ebb and flow throughout the year.
On March 10, 1998, USCR wrote to the Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service asking that residents of Kosovo be accorded temporary protected status "as quickly as possible." On June 9, the U.S. government did designate Kosovo for temporary protected status, the first time the U.S. government so designated a portion of a state.
As the fighting escalated, estimates of the numbers of displaced civilians varied widely. In mid-June, when UNHCR estimated that 42,000 people were displaced inside Kosovo, the Mother Theresa Society, the principal local NGO assisting the displaced population, said that the displaced numbered more than 100,000.
During the late spring and early summer, the Serb authorities obstructed the ICRC, UNHCR, journalists, and other humanitarian and human rights organizations from reaching areas of Kosovo where the fighting was heaviest.
On June 10, UNHCR reached western Kosovo for the first time since the fighting began. The next day, ICRC announced that it had finally reached Decani, but the two ICRC delegates who reached the devastated town were limited in what they were able to see. Following a meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Milosevic on June 16, access improved dramatically until late July, when a new offensive began.
Serb military strategy in June was to create a cordon sanitaire along the border with Albania to prevent arms and fighters from joining the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). That strategy caused the first major spillover of refugees outside Kosovo's borders; thousands of refugees crossed into Albania, mostly from the border region.
During July, relatively few refugees crossed into Albania, in part, because would-be refugees regarded the journey to that border as too dangerous. In addition to its being a war zone, there were unsubstantiated but widespread rumors among the Kosovars that the Serbs had mined the area.
Fighting spread and intensified in late July as Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces waged a major offensive against KLA strongholds, creating more than 50,000 new internally displaced persons in a matter of days, bringing the total number of internally displaced into the range of a quarter million people.
In late July, about 200 new arrivals were entering Montenegro per week, bringing the total there to about 22,000. Although significant numbers also fled into Macedonia, the Macedonian government refused to acknowledge their presence for fear of touching off ethnic conflict there.
USCR visited Kosovo in late July 1998. The visit also included Albania, where about 14,000 Kosovar refugees were living.
The late July fighting focused on the towns of Orahovac and Malisevo in Central Kosovo, a battle that tested the capacity of the KLA to hold and defend territory. The KLA was outmatched in firepower, and beaten back by Serb army and special police forces. In the process, the entire populations of these towns – already swelled by the influx of displaced persons from other villages in previous weeks – fled.
Many other villages and towns in the surrounding region also came under attack, causing their residents to flee as well. Although earlier waves of displaced people had generally been able to find relatives or others to stay with, the recent offensive was so extensive and severe that many tens of thousands fled into the woods and mountainous areas with no shelter, food, or other assistance.
As Serb forces took Orahovac, they reportedly brought in trucks to loot houses and stores. Until the battle for Orahovac, displacement in Kosovo appeared generally to be spontaneous flight or flight organized by villagers and townspeople themselves, often with KLA assistance. Orahovac marked the first instance in Kosovo of Serb militias reportedly apprehending civilians, separating them by sex, arresting the men, and busing the women and children away from the fighting – a familiar pattern of "ethnic cleansing" during the war in Bosnia.
On July 21, Serbian militia forces bused about 500 people from Orahovac to Prizren, in the southeast, in two convoys, and detained about 150 men in the Prizren firehouse. ICRC delegates who arrived in Orahovac on July 21 expressed shock at the visible effects of the battle with bodies scattered along roadsides, burning buildings, and terrified civilians, mostly ethnic Albanians, trapped in their cellars.
By late July, journalists – largely denied access to conflict zones until after they had been "cleaned up" – were reporting what appeared to be fresh, unmarked graves in areas close to the fighting.
Displaced people from Orahovac also told journalists of atrocities, including tying ethnic Albanians to posts in the midst of the fighting to use as human shields, as well as accounts of massacres of civilians. None of the testimonies could be independently confirmed.
A week later, Serb forces took Malisevo. In this case, unlike Orahovac, the KLA abandoned their positions and helped civilians to evacuate before Serb forces overran the town. Many displaced persons were observed on the roads in the region, in flatbed carts pulled by tractors or on foot.
Even though the battle for Malisevo was less violent, Serb forces nevertheless appeared intent on creating a wide swath of destruction. On August 4, a WFP official in Kosovo said that the area around Malisevo was "a wasteland of destroyed villages and burned fields littered with dead cattle." The scorched-earth policy appeared to have been unrelated to military strikes.
After the Serb offensive of late July, providing humanitarian aid to the affected populations became increasingly difficult. The intensity of the fighting itself disrupted aid deliveries. In addition, Serb police and paramilitary units set up checkpoints that obstructed aid deliveries. Mother Theresa Society humanitarian workers were particularly targeted for harassment. At the time, international NGOs were generally delivering humanitarian aid to the Mother Theresa Society or to the Yugoslav Red Cross (which mostly assisted the relatively small population of needy ethnic Serbs in Kosovo). These local NGOs, in turn, distributed the goods directly to beneficiaries.
In early July, Serb police arrested some Mother Theresa Society leaders and workers, accusing them of delivering food to a town under KLA control. Serb snipers also reportedly shot and wounded two humanitarian workers while they were distributing aid.
The harassment of the Mother Theresa Society aid workers threatened the entire humanitarian assistance operation. Few international NGOs delivered food and other aid directly, in part because the displaced were not in camps and because in many cases displaced persons were too fearful to come out of hiding in places under Serb control.
On July 26, Serb police raided the Mother Theresa Society warehouse in Vushtrri and confiscated 12.5 metric tons of wheat. The raid occurred during food distribution to the needy, causing additional fear among would-be beneficiaries.
The squeeze on food deliveries occurred both at the beginning and the end of the food distribution line. Serb authorities imposed local "control" of basic food items into Kosovo, creating significant price increases and shortages in some commodities. Serb police checkpoints generally let international aid vehicles pass, but stopped and seized goods from commercial truckers, sometimes demanding bribes to let food pass.
The Serb authorities allowed deliveries of controlled items to Serb run state stores. At the time of USCR's visit to Kosovo, rising food prices and commodity scarcities were evident in ethnic Albanian markets.
The Serb forces' strategy was not only to obstruct food deliveries, but to prevent food production within Kosovo. In addition to looting, Serb forces deliberately burned fields, winter food stocks, stores of firewood, and killed livestock. Serb snipers also prevented ethnic Albanian farmers from harvesting their fields.
Since the internally displaced persons in Kosovo were not accommodated in camps or collective centers, almost all found shelter living with relatives and other local host families. By late summer, they were already eating the winter food stocks of the host families.
In August, USCR wrote to the White House apprising the U.S. government of evidence gathered during USCR's site visit to Kosovo that Serb forces were using the denial of food as a weapon in Kosovo in contravention of Protocol II, Article 14 of the Geneva Conventions. USCR called upon the U.S. government: to use and release satellite intelligence images to document the destruction of crops (and for other related purposes, such as locating mass graves); to condemn these actions as a war crime; to urge the UN Security Council to pass a resolution calling upon states to take all necessary measures to ensure the delivery of food and other humanitarian relief supplies to the civilian population of Kosovo; and, if the UN Security Council was unwilling to issue such a resolution, to call upon NATO to ensure that Serb forces do not impede food and humanitarian aid from reaching vulnerable populations in Kosovo.
Despite pledges from President Milosevic that humanitarian organizations would have unhindered access to all parts of Kosovo, Serb police and military intensified harassment of aid agencies in August. On August 24, three Mother Theresa Society aid workers were killed while distributing humanitarian aid to displaced people. They were delivering three metric tons of food parcels and stoves that they had received during the weekend from a USAID-funded convoy. Shortly after passing through a Serb police checkpoint, and while in an open field in midafternoon, the vehicle carrying white boxes with the blue emblems of Doctors of the World came under direct shell fire. The incident occurred near the village of Vlaski Drenovac, 40 km (25 miles) west of Pristina. In addition to the three fatalities, two other humanitarian workers were wounded in the attack. There were no uniformed KLA soldiers reported in the area.
International humanitarian organizations delivering food to collection points inside Kosovo reported that police and military violence would escalate shortly after the international agencies dropped off humanitarian aid and left. Although international nongovernmental agencies were not threatened directly, they were subjected to petty harassment. During August, police at checkpoints along the provincial border between Serbia and Kosovo stopped and turned back trucks carrying flour purchased by international NGOs. Police told the drivers that such basic commodities were not allowed into Kosovo. After higher level interventions, these trucks were eventually allowed to pass.
Similar interference occurred with international aid convoys within Kosovo. On August 27, Serb forces blocked an eight-truck UNHCR relief convoy about 12 miles from Pristina near the Slatina airport. The convoy was seeking to deliver food and humanitarian aid to the Decani and Pec regions. The police told these drivers that they had orders to turn back everything on the Pristina-Pec road. Again, after higher level intervention, the convoy subsequently was allowed to proceed.
Because the Serb authorities refused legal recognition to international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations working in Kosovo, the NGOs operating there were subjected to a host of petty obstacles, ranging from being denied the use of two-way radios to visa denials and delays.
On August 26, the Serb authorities announced that they would be establishing ten "humanitarian centers" throughout Kosovo where displaced people would be able to find food and shelter. The statement said that this would ensure that "the citizens will be receiving aid from authorized persons." The authorities did not specify what they meant by "authorized persons." Serb police and security forces were to provide security in the centers. In light of accompanying moves to harass and impede the work of the Mother Theresa Society, this was widely interpreted as a Serb attempt to control the humanitarian assistance pipeline.
At first, U.S. diplomats welcomed the initiative, but USCR and other NGOs questioned its true purpose and viability. USCR issued a statement saying, "Serb forces plunder and burn ethnic Albanian towns and villages, forcing hundreds of thousands into the woods. Then, they prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching the displaced where they are hiding. Finally, under the specter of mass death through exposure and hunger, they offer the 'solution' of Serb-run humanitarian centers – concentration camps masquerading as safe havens."
USCR suggested an alternative. "An impressive nongovernmental network in Kosovo is capable of reaching the displaced where they feel relatively safe – outside the reach of the Serb military. The driving force is a local humanitarian agency, the Mother Theresa Society. The United States needs to put its weight behind this and other local humanitarian organizations, to throw a giant protective arm around them, and allow them to feed the hungry."
USCR called upon the U.S. government to reject the Serb proposal and to push immediately for a Security Council resolution to take all necessary measures to deliver food and humanitarian assistance to the displaced and war-affected populations of Kosovo.
"With or without such a resolution, and until such time as international military force is brought to bear," USCR said, "the United States should be promoting international accompaniment for local NGOs, teaming them with international NGOs, diplomatic observers, and a strong and vigorous UN humanitarian and human rights presence."
On September 23, the UN Security Council did pass a resolution – UN SC Res. 1199 – demanding a cease-fire, the withdrawal of "security units used for civilian repression," and "unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations and supplies to Kosovo."
Responding to the criticism, the U.S. government backed off from the humanitarian centers proposal. UNHCR, however, took the position that "national authorities have the primary responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance," and said that multilateral assistance would be provided "in coordination with these authorities."
UNHCR, nevertheless, quickly observed that displaced ethnic Albanians were not willingly coming out of the woods and approaching the Serb-run centers. In late September, UNHCR reported that "most Albanian civilians are reportedly too proud to use the state-run humanitarian aid centers." However, the same paragraph of that report indicated that fear rather than pride might have been the principal factor keeping them away. It noted that "many IDPs [internally displaced persons] are terrified of any contact with the police."
The worsening security situation demonstrated the limits of humanitarian assistance without a meaningful international protection component. That same month, UNHCR reported that UNHCR field staff "saw Serbian tanks shell villages on the night of 22nd September in an area approximately 20 km (12 miles) north of Pristina. Women, children, and the elderly were reported to have been evacuated from at least 10 villages hit in the shelling. UNHCR saw smoke and flames from the villages, which had a population of about 6,000." The report gave no indication that UNHCR's presence mitigated the attack or the forced displacement.
As criticism of the Serb-run centers mounted, UNHCR, too, appeared to back off somewhat. At a briefing for the Humanitarian Liaison Working Group on September 30, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said, "We intend to provide some assistance not only through the centers but also through the Mother Theresa Society and by direct distribution to those displaced. It is important that the authorities become more serious in their efforts to make the centers work." UNHCR officials gave Serb officials a list of conditions for UNHCR assistance to the Serb-run centers. These included assurances that there would be no acts of aggression, no deportations, no detentions, and no police presence. In addition, UNHCR officials said that the Mother Theresa Society would have to be present in the centers.
UNHCR began promoting four regional "distribution hubs" in Pristina, Mitrovica, Prizren, and Pec where NGOs could pick up stockpiled food and relief supplies to distribute to displaced people in outlying areas. The UN Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM) was to be present at the four hubs. The U.S. State Department told UNHCR that none of its resources should be used for the Serb-run centers, but that U.S. government funds could be used to support UNHCR's hub distribution program.
Although one of the Serb-run humanitarian centers was located in Istinic, a village in western Kosovo in the vicinity of which an estimated 40,000 internally displaced people were congregated, virtually none were willing to approach it.
On September 13, Serbian police in armored personnel carriers conducted a sweep of the makeshift encampment in the woods near Istinic where the displaced were staying. Using loudspeakers, the police told them to clear the area, and by day's end they were all gone.
In Vranici, about 48 km (30 miles) southwest of Pristina, Serb police flushed another group of internally displaced people out of the woods with the promise that it would be safe for them to return home. The group headed out of the woods in a convoy of about 250 cars and tractors. However, the police stopped the convoy, separated the men from the women and children, loaded about 250 men on buses, and took them away. They bused the women and children back to Vranici. At least four men were killed; two were shot in the head at close range, one of whom had his nose cut off. Afterwards, the police ransacked the vehicles. Reporters later noted scattered belongings and scores of burnt vehicles on the site.
Reporting on the incident, the New York Times said, "Because Mr. Milosevic has been criticized by the West for allowing about 50,000 Albanian refugees to live outdoors, the operation by the Serbian police in Vranici seemed designed to create chaos and fear but also to insure that those forced to flee their homes would not end up in the forest."
In October, after the Milosevic-Holbrooke accord, a lull in the fighting allowed tens of thousands of displaced persons to return to their homes. Most importantly, the 20,000 internally displaced persons who, at that time, were completely without shelter were able to leave their places of hiding in the woods and find hard shelter for the winter months.
In November, UN agencies conducted a survey assessing housing conditions in 285 villages. The survey found that 74 percent of the surveyed villages had been damaged by the conflict, and that 30 percent of the homes in those villages were seriously damaged or destroyed. The survey found only 40 percent of homes to be habitable.
By year's end, more than 100,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their homes. They did so in part because of the relatively improved security situation after the October agreement and the increased presence of the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM) and the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM), and in part to escape harsh winter conditions in the woods or to lessen the burden on host families.
Although security improved generally in November and December, many parts of Kosovo, including areas to which displaced people returned, remained highly insecure. The sporadic violence that continued in November and December escalated sharply into open warfare in the last week of the year. In the waning days of 1998, intensive fighting occurred in Podujevo, temporarily displacing upwards of 5,500 people.
Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo
The KLA threatened and attacked ethnic Serb civilians during the year, causing thousands to flee, mostly into Serbia proper. KLA ethnic cleansing of ethnic Serb civilian population pockets intensified in December. By year's end, ethnic Serbs had left about 90 ethnically mixed villages and the number of displaced people arriving from Kosovo to Serbia had swelled to about 50,000. The Yugoslav Red Cross estimated that another 30,000 ethnic Serbs were displaced within Kosovo.
KLA forces appeared to have abducted 282 Serb police or civilians, as of December 7. On December 11, Serb civilians in Urosevac took a group of five international humanitarian aid workers hostage, demanding that they be exchanged for two Serbs who had been abducted in July. The hostages were released after about eight hours.
Ethnic Serb refugees, predominantly from the Krajina region of Croatia, were especially vulnerable. Numbering about 14,000 at the beginning of 1998, they were disproportionately elderly and infirm. Some 10,000 of this number lived in 140 collective centers scattered throughout Kosovo, the other 4,000 in private homes. In general, the conditions in which these refugees lived were reportedly dreadful, and their security even worse. In some cases, Serb police were co-located in the same centers, making them ready targets for KLA attacks.
In April, USCR wrote to the U.S. State Department to draw its attention to the vulnerability of the Krajina Serb refugees in Kosovo. USCR said, "Unlike other parts of Serbia and Montenegro, where refugees have been able to find private accommodations, in Kosovo the refugees are not able to integrate locally and overwhelmingly live in collective centers where they are not only isolated, but vulnerable to attack by Kosovo Albanian nationalist extremists."
USCR recommended that the State Department promote a program to relocate the 14,000 Krajina Serb refugees, a program that would include U.S. funding to move and reintegrate these refugees to other parts of Yugoslavia or, if possible and if voluntary, back to their homes in the Krajina. USCR also urged the State Department to work with its local IOM and UNHCR partners in Belgrade "to make active use of the U.S. resettlement program as part of a comprehensive package to find durable solutions on their behalf, to remove them from the extremely volatile and dangerous situation they face in Kosovo, and to ease the tensions in that region that threaten to unravel the progress made in the Balkans since the signing of the Dayton Agreement."
USCR also wrote to the Yugoslav ambassador to the United States, saying, "We believe that the humanitarian needs of an estimated 90,000 new refugees and internally displaced persons, in addition to the 550,000 already being hosted in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, create a great hardship for the uprooted and are a burden that your government should not bear alone." USCR informed the Yugoslav embassy of its proposal to resettle the 14,000 refugees from Kosovo, and said, "We would be very interested to learn whether your government would be receptive to the idea of relocating these refugees to safer locations where they would have a better chance of restarting their lives."
In June, the U.S. State Department decided to begin to seek expedited resettlement processing for Krajina Serb refugees in conflict areas of Kosovo, and set a goal to resettle 2,000 of an estimated 8,000 in need of resettlement. During its site visit to Kosovo in July, USCR met NGO personnel assisting the Krajina Serbs in collective centers, and with UNHCR and IOM officials involved in the newly started resettlement effort. By September, the first group of 800 had arrived in the United States. By the end of 1998, 1,444 had departed from Kosovo for third countries, according to UNHCR. Another 6,000 had left Kosovo for other parts of Serbia, and 288 had repatriated to Croatia.
At year's end, 7,173 Krajina Serb refugees were known to remain in Kosovo, of whom about 5,500 were still living in collective centers and about 1,500 in private homes. The refugees were reportedly moving frequently for their personal safety. At year's end, UNHCR field assessments of refugees in Kosovo collective centers found "almost all refugees who have been interviewed in collective centers say they do not see any future in remaining in Kosovo, and are trying to leave."
By late July, the number of persons displaced from Kosovo to Montenegro swelled to about 22,000. The number of displaced persons in Montenegro almost doubled in August, and, on September 13, Montenegrin authorities acted to stop the flow, packing 3,200 displaced Kosovar Albanians into buses and dumping them across the Albanian border. The refugees arrived in the Albanian town of Shkodra in poor condition after a nine-hour walk. Montenegro said that it had already taken in 40,000 displaced Kosovars and couldn't take any more.
The same day, Montenegro announced that its internal border with Kosovo was closed, and reportedly pushed away 5,000 Kosovar asylum seekers. (This is not an international border, since both Kosovo and Montenegro are part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Consequently, Kosovars in Montenegro are internally displaced persons, rather than refugees.)
The closure of the Montenegrin border cut off one of the few remaining escape routes for would-be refugees from Kosovo, and brought Albania's refugee total up to 18,000, at that point. The internal border between Montenegro and Kosovo remained closed to undocumented new arrivals for the rest of the year.
After the Milosevic-Holbrooke accord, about 10,000 displaced persons returned from Montenegro to Kosovo. At year's end the displaced population in Montenegro stood at about 27,000. About the same number of refugees were residing there.
About two-thirds of the displaced people lived with relatives and friends in Montenegro. Only 2 percent lived in collective centers. The remainder lived on their own.
Croatian Serb Refugees
Yugoslavia still had 296,597 registered refugees from Croatia at year's end, which did not include 42,000 who became Yugoslav citizens, thereby relinquishing their refugee status. About half of the refugees, 51 percent, were living in central Serbia, about 40 percent in Vojvodina, and the remainder split between Montenegro (5 percent) and Kosovo (3 percent).
On January 15, eastern Slavonia reverted to Croatian control. Fear and insecurity prompted tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs, many of whom had been displaced from other parts of Croatia, into eastern Slavonia, to seek refuge in Yugoslavia. By year's end, about 50,000 had arrived, about 44,000 of whom the government recognized. This was in addition to about 20,000 Croatian Serb refugees who fled from eastern Slavonia to Yugoslavia in late 1997 before the transfer had occurred.
In April, USCR wrote to the U.S. State Department urging that the President consider a drawdown from the State Department's Emergency Refugee Migration Assistance account for urgent and unforeseen refugee and migration needs in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. USCR's letter cited the unexpected influx of 60,000 Croatian refugees caused by transfer of eastern Slavonia to Croatian authority on January 15.
"These refugees," said the USCR letter, "are fleeing threats, evictions, vandalism, arson, beatings, and, in at least two cases, murder. They are entering a country ill-equipped to receive them. Even before the new arrivals, many of the 550,000 refugees already in FRY were complaining of hunger; despite this, food aid on their behalf has recently been cut back."
Although UNHCR-Belgrade assisted only 1,822 refugees to return to Croatia in 1998, UNHCR-Zagreb recorded 8,386 ethnic Serb refugee returns in 1998, which brought to 27,194, the number of ethnic Serb refugees repatriating to Croatia (almost all from Yugoslavia) since the signing of the Dayton Agreement. Another 32,000 Croatian refugees indicated a desire to return to Croatia.
Bosnian Serb Refugees
Yugoslavia hosted 200,937 Bosnian refugees at the end of 1998. Although UNHCR assisted a relatively small number to return (47), it estimated that another 20,000 returned spontaneously. Almost all of the refugees who returned to Bosnia went to the Serb-controlled entity, Republika Srpska.
About 60 percent of refugees in Yugoslavia, when polled, have expressed a preference to stay permanently. As of November 18, 188,329 persons had applied for Yugoslav citizenship during the year. Refugees accounted for 82,977 applications (more than 100,000 individuals). During the year, the authorities granted 106,361 citizenship applications, including 25,483 refugee applications (representing 42,053 persons). Under Yugoslav law, most former citizens of the old Yugoslavia residing in the present Yugoslavia are placed 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.
Some refugees have reportedly decided not to apply for citizenship, fearing that it would affect their claims for lost property in Croatia or Bosnia. 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.
In 1998, third countries agreed to resettle 10,170 refugees from Yugoslavia, of whom 4,662 were UNHCR-assisted. The United States was the destination for 60 percent of the resettled refugees, Australia another 33 percent, and the remaining 7 percent divided among Canada, the Netherlands, Iceland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
In 1998, Yugoslavia had readmission agreements with Germany and Switzerland. These agreements were designed to ease deportations to Yugoslavia (representing in most cases rejected Kosovar asylum seekers). Such deportations came to a standstill on September 7, however, when the European Union announced a ban on Yugoslav national airline (JAT) flights to protest continuing human rights violations in Kosovo. The readmission agreements had specified that the JAT airline was to be used for the return of rejected asylum seekers to Yugoslavia. Reacting to the ban, President Milosevic suspended the readmission agreement with Germany.
From the beginning of 1998 until the suspension, Germany deported more than 1,000 ethnic Albanians to Kosovo. Although seven German states stopped deporting ethnic Albanians to Serbia earlier in the year, other German states continued to deport them until Milosevic suspended the readmission agreement. Just days before the JAT flight ban, German officials in Northrhein-Westfalen deported a group of 67 rejected asylum seekers to Belgrade.
Although Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, declined to join the EU's ban on JAT flights, on September 16, Switzerland announced that rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo would be allowed to remain until the end of April 1999. Switzerland, nevertheless, forcibly returned more than 1,200 Yugoslavs in 1998, mostly Kosovars with criminal records.