FECL 44 (June 1996):

RESPITE FOR BOSNIAN REFUGEES IN GERMANY

Refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina (B&H) who found refuge in Germany will not be forced to leave Germany before October at the earliest. This statement was made on 6 June by the German Interior Minister, Manfred Kanther. Negotiations between Germany and B&H have not yet been concluded, the Interior Minister pointed out, but thanks to a number of transit and visa agreements, Bosnian refugees can visit their (former) home country and return to Germany afterwards.

The letter of Interior Minister Kanther means that the Government's previous plans for the swift forcible return of the Bosnian refugees have failed for the time being. Yet, the pressure on the refugees to leave the Germany "soon" remains.

According to earlier plans, singles and childless couples - with very few exceptions - were to be deported. This would have meant the forcible return of about 200,000 persons - about two thirds of all refugees from B&H, starting 1 July 1996 and completed by mid 1997. Starting May 1997, families with children were also to be sent back. This was decided by the Conference of German Interior Ministers (Lšnder and federal level) both on 15 December 1995 (just one day after the signing of the Dayton Agreement!) and on 26 January 1996.

 

Massive protest against overhasty repatriation

This overhasty decision, dictated only by the populist needs of German home affairs politicians, triggered a storm of protests inside and outside Germany: The Government of the Bosnian-Croatian Federation of B&H reacted with outrage. The UNHCR pointed out that, if realised, these plans were very likely to result in new camps being set up and would precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe.

In Germany, refugee assistants, churches, NGOs, charities and the Green Party mobilised public opinion. Even the conservative daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which is known both for its influence on Government politicians and its very restrictive views on asylum, criticised the planned deportation of the Bosnian war refugees with unusual vehemence.

 

Lšnder Ministers fudge decisions

The day before the German Interior Ministers met again on 3 May, the media had published pictures showing Bosnian Serbs attacking Bosnian refugees with batons. So the German Interior Ministers attempted the impossible: to take into account public opinion on the one hand, and to stick to their repatriation decisions on the other. As a result, they took a number of very muddled technical decisions, while leaving it to the Federal Interior Minister to decide upon the main and most controversial issue: whether or not to grant the Bosnian refugees in Germany a reprieve.

 

Forced repatriation in wintertime?

Mr Kanther has now decided: four months reprieve, until October. Apparently, one cannot expect a politician to consider the fact, that winter usually begins at that time of the year in Bosnia...

Now as before, many refugees, among them many survivors of torture camps, fear they will be sent back to places, where there persecutors, the assassins of their relatives, not only live unpunished, but also still hold the levers of local power. This is the situation facing in particular displaced people from today's Republica Srpska, but also for those from certain parts of the Bosnian-Croatian Federation.

Felix Schneider, Frankfurt/Main