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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 09 JUL 1996 20:23:14 GMT

    Refugees in Serbia


    The people in camps are asked to do the impossible: to decide about their future with no guarantees whatsoever and under profound emotional stress

    AIM Belgrade, July 2, 1996

    In the fifth year of refugee life, inmates of the Belgrade refugee camp in Krnjaca were recently offered to leave their paupers' squalid cabins and isolation and go to a more comfortable settlement especially made for them near Zajecar. After several days of persuasion, a verbal conflict between a representative of the Commissariat for Refugees of Serbia and inmates of the camp and threats that they would be thrown out if they continued to resist the will of the authorities, about ten families decided to set out to a better life. They started a journey with their bundles towards Zajecar. But, they returned faster than they had gone. Humanitarians in Zajecar were appalled: "What settlement, its construction has only just begun! Go back to where you have come from..."

    Refugee Syndrome

    That is how the journey ended, and the inmates of the camp in Krnjaca have returned to their monotonous everyday survival. Humanitarian workers are visiting them again, the press does not write about them any more, and the people from the Commissariat have also become appeased. These people are living their refugee life again, as they have done ever since they crossed the Danube near Vajska, five years ago. At that time they were heroes, nowadays they are families with no future.

    They always ask the rare visitors what they have brought for them, and not long ago, older boys physically attacked the psychologists, when they had told them that this year only preschool children would go to the seaside. The latest rain left mud in the camp, dirty children are running around the courtyard, and in front of the cabins sit listless mothers and a man here and there.

    The people we have met in the camp in Krnjaca trust noone, neither the Commissariat, nor the world. The hate changes. They make the impression of being depressive and apathetic. The five-year long collective humiliation left obvious marks on them. Psychologists call it the refuge syndrome, accompanied with the inevitable dependence on others, helplessness, loss of the capability to control one's own life, loss of the possibility to make decisions about anything.

    A woman half-heartedly washing a boy's face at the tap in the yard, says: "Where am I supposed to go, to Croatia? Oh, no, I won't. And why should I go to Bosnia, alone with two children?" During all these years, she went out of the camp only twice. She does not deny that humanitarian aid arrives. She mentions flour donated through the Red Cross. She does not work, and the children are going to school.

    Even a superficial statistics shows that at least one third of refugee families are in a crisis. Marriages crack, mothers cease taking care of their children. Fathers, former warriors, become addicted to alcohol.

    More than 400 thousand refugees (noone knows the exact figure) and who knows how many banished persons (the term introduced after the latest mass exodus of the Serbs from Krajina and Western Slavonia in summer 1995) are in fact unaware of the significance they are attributed in domestic and world negotiating circles. Their decision on return is a measure of success of negotiating, peace-making and who knows what missions.

    "They are people with double trauma. First, they were traumatized by what they had experienced in places they have fled from, and living in collective centres for four years has also affected them. They are people who have lost everything: their kinfolk, homes, identity, safety, individuality. Now they are forced to decide, and two thirds of the refugees at this moment are not capable of making any decision, least of all the fatal one - whether to stay or to leave", says Dr Jelena Vlajkovic, assistant professor at the faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, Department of Psychology.

    Return Home, or to the Entity

    "They want these unfortunate people to decide right now and without any guarantees. But, noone is offering them the right information about what is awaiting them over there, if and when they return. In Bosnia there is the confusing post war situation, and there is no answer to the question where they are expected to return - to their homes or to their entity. There is no answer in the opposite sense either - what is awaiting them if they stay here, will they be given jobs or a place of their own? They just tell them: if you return, you will have international protection... Noone cares to remember that in this space everything coming from abroad has been satanized for a long time. Now, they are trying to convince these people that they must trust the foreigners and that they will be their protectors", Dr Vlajkovic warns.

    Our interlocutor adds that these families are in a hopeless situation: "Only old people seriously think about return. The young ones wish to stay here. They are afraid of a new war, mobilization and of having to join the army. And this means breaking the family from within, and it is another emotional reason why the refugees are not capable of deciding about their future. They need help, psychological preparations and rehabilitation in order to return, and that is why these people should not be pushed to return".

    Those who have been making lists of refugees in the past few months - the Commissariat of Refugees of Serbia - do not share this opinion. They wish to get rid of them as soon as possible. People in refugee camps, the one in Krnjaca inclusive, do not trust them at all. They fear the new census. They mention raids into camps and mobilizations of the people overnight and taking them across the Drina. They also mention silence of the Commissariat about this case.

    "We are trying first to turn the parents back to normal life, primarily the mothers, to make them turn to their children, to take care of them, to play with them. This is very important for the future of the children", says Dr Jelena Vlajkovic, warning against the terrible consequences which are yet to appear. Investigations reveal that descendants of the people who survived the holocaust in the Second World War are even nowadays profoundly traumatized people. They still function in a special unhealthy way, only because their parents experienced severe traumas. We will also have completely changed generations, and the chaos with refugees may last twenty years.

    Shut down in their camps, unable to change anything in their lives without the help of others, refugees are waiting for the decisions of state agencies. In the beginning of the war, others were making decisions about their destiny, lives, homes, future. Probably, it will be the same now. Those who refuse to abide by the decisions of the authorities to return where they have come from, will be left even without these paupers' camps. They will become cases for social welfare. In a poor country such as Serbia, this means nothing but a new struggle for survival.

    (AIM) Branka Kaljevic