WED, 01 JUN 1994 18:19:59 GMT
AIM, Belgrade, May 28,1994.
When they started arriving, first from Croatia and then from Bosnia, their hapless stories and material ruin became, before the cameras of the regime television but a propaganda trump card in the war which was gaining in momentum. From then to date refugees in Serbia experienced different political "treatments". At the beginning, their number was maliciously overblown, so as to prove how "our" misfortunates were more numerous than "their" misfortunates. The cameras, accordingly, warmed the warrior hearts of Serbia. When mongering was exhausted and inflation skyrocketed, they became those who were depriving the locals of bread, jobs, humanitarian packages.
When Karadzic and Mladic needed new "material" for the front, they started chasing them through Serbia like rabbits, loading them on trucks and leading them away in an unknown direction. Now, there is no more diplomatic tacticizing nor big patriotic words. An action of making lists of refugees in underway and in parallel a revision of refugee status. The task of the Republican Commission for Refugees is, after this "cleaning" to have more refugees in the liberated territories and less in Serbia. According to the estimates of Bratislava Buba Morina, as of recently the Republican Commissioner for Refugees, at least 100,000 must return "to their homes". Since about 400,000 refugees have been registered in Serbia, this means that expert state services have estimated that a fourth of that number are an economic and political surplus.
In practice, the listing of refugees is not evolving very smoothly, which could have been expected. Although the state swears that its objective is not to attack the rights of refugees, but to precisely establish their number and to have those who really need assistance get it in the future, it is noticeable that refugees, taught by experience, flee from every registering as the devil from the cross. People still remember how last winter Serbian policy picked on those who did not wish to go to war. When the effects of psychological pressures proved insufficient it embarked on mobilization, where the lists (especially of local Red Cross organizations) played a crucial denouncing role.
On the example of the largest commune of southern Banat, Pancevo, it is noticeable that refugees "will not" be registered this time. In the territory of Pancevo, where there are about 3,500 refugees it is already certain that most did not respond to the call of the Commission. Of the 2,500 refugees housed in the city proper, only 40 percent have filled in the form of the Republican Commission and refugee status was not confirmed in every fifth case. According to the available data, about 300 persons lost that status in Novi Beograd and 200 people in the Belgrade commune of Savski Venac.
In the Office of High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgrade, Deputy Mission Chief Gerd Vestervin advises those afflicted by this decision to seek legal assistance in the Office of High Commissioner. A refugee can lodge an appeal against such a decision with the Ministry for Relations with Serbs outside Serbia, warns Vestervin.
- This action suits us if people leave voluntarily, but we are against any coercion. Nevertheless, we know that before every repatriation, it is necessary to reach political agreement between the country from which the people have come, the country in which they are and the Office of High Commissioner. Only in that case can vital issues, such as legal and material status be resolved.
The Center for Anti - War Action, a service operating within the SOS phone, was was called by panicky refugees when the action was announced. Now, there is complete silence with regard to that issue. The people have evidently reached a decision, giving up on institutions and decided to solve their material status alone, thinks Goran Svilanovic, an activist in the Center.
- On two occasions we wrote to Bratislava Morina, immediately after she assumed office, drawing her attention to the fact that the refugees live in growing fear, but we got no reply. Now, there is much speculation. For instance, a student of the Faculty of Philosophy from Bosnia is trying to get citizenship because he heard that next year he will have alien status here and will have to pay for his post-graduate studies from his own pocket - adds Svilanovic.
What will happen with the people who lose their refugee status? They can leave Serbia or stay to live here without any assistance from the state, which practically means that they will lose the right to adequate accommodation and food, to food packages if they have been taken in by relatives, to health care and education. True, the state agrees to allow 68,000 refugee children attending elementary school and 23,000 pupils of secondary school to finish this school year. Nothing is said about enrolment in the next year.
It is evident that this action will affect only the poor. The rich have, as a rule, already made do, found jobs, bought shops, integrated themselves in the life of Serbia. Loss of refugee status means nothing to them any more. The poor will once again be given a role in the realization of plans of a political character. Namely this action was heartily supported by the governments of the Republic of Srpska and of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, for which it is important to urgently populate territories "freed" in the war both of the people and of material goods.
The most interesting question is the manner in which communal services determine which place is safe and which is not, and consequently which refugees have to return and which may stay. Tha fact that the Republican Commission, alias the state, has made a detailed list of safe places (the list is not for public use), without concealing that this was done in consultation with Knin and Pale, tells a lot about this political game concerning territories.Cities like Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Knin have been assessed as secure and quite convenient for living.
The extent to which people are really attracted to go back to insecure and economically dead regions, is proven by the enormous pressures to get a passport or Yugoslav citizenship. It is well known that people are going from door to door and trying to obtain travel and personal documents, and it is no secret that the representation offices of their states of origin are making them pay dearly for that wish to leave. For instance, The Bureau of the Republic of Srpska, according to the statements of refugees made to the Office of High Commissioner and the Center for Anti - War Action charges DM 1,000 per man and DM 500 per woman or child, as passport tax. Without any objections people pay this pirate tax hoping to go abroad, which is more attractive than devastated territories.