MON, 17 FEB 1997 23:00:47 GMT
After the decision of the Swiss Government to send refugees back
AIM Sarajevo, 8 February, 1997
Out of 42 million Swiss francs promised by the Swiss Government for reconstruction of Bosnia & Herzegovina, almost ninety per cent have been used during last year. Although distributed almost on the entire territory of the country, this aid was mostly invested in reconstruction of the Una-Sana Canton, in repairs of the housing units and reconstruction of electric power and water supply. If significant aid received by refugees who are returning to B&H is added to this, it can rightfully be said that Switzerland is one of those countries which truly knows how to join what is convenient with what is useful - getting rid of the excess of refugees, but at the same time enabling them as painless return to their country as possible.
According to data from the Association of B&H Refugees in Switzerland, at the moment there are 20 thousand refugees from B&H in this country, and only about 20 thousand applied for voluntary return home by the end of last year. Majority of them chose to take this step mostly because of the large aid the Swiss Government allocates for each voluntary returnee.
We asked Hamdija Razic, who was until recently the President of the Association of B&H Refugees in Switzerland and who has just returned to his native town, Sanski Most, about the figures:
"Each individual who applies to return, the Swiss Government gives the total of 4,800 marks on two occasions. Sixty per cent of this sum immediately, and the rest after five to eight months. The same amount is given to the municipality to which the refugee is returning. According to our data, about 2,200 people applied for voluntary return so far. Some of them have returned, but a larger number of them are expected to come from this country in spring. According to plans, about eight thousand refugees will leave Switzerland at the time, while the rest will receive the so-called letters of notice most probably in the end of August this year. I think that there is a possibility to lodge an appeal against this decision, but how they will be resolved, it is difficult to predict now", says Razic.
According to his words, there is a willingness to return home, but there is also a large number of those who would like to prolong the deadlines for some time, if nothing else. Although there are no precise data, it is assumed that a number of people have already submitted applications to be issued visas for departure to third countries, mostly overseas - to Canada, the USA, Australia.
"We have all offered support to Dayton accords although we are highly sceptical about their implementation. Especially concerning return to the Serb entity. These people do not wish to return to someone else's homes, which is the problem, for example, in Sanski Most. It will be even more expressed in spring when another 60 thousand refugees return to this region. Besides, we insisted back in Switzerland that the precondition for return be arrest of war criminals, which is, it seems hardly probable", adds Razic.
That necessary conditions for return of the planned number of refugees have not yet been created in B&H, it has become quite clear to everyone by now. Moreover, it seems that even a number of ministers in the Government of B&H have become aware of it. The firm stance held so far that postponement of deadlines for return would not be insisted upon was denied a few days ago, although it passed quite unnoticed, by Rasim Kadic, Minister of social policy, for displaced persons and refugees of B&H Federation. According to what he said, "real conditions for return of a large number of refugees do not exist", and as he said he would "personally do his best to postpone the process" at least for some time.
As it seems at the moment, there will most probably be no postponement. Christian Hauswirth, Swiss ambassador in B&H, says about it for AIM:
"Last summer we started the pilot project of voluntary return of refugees from B&H. The previous decision on involuntary return was postponed in view of the existing situation. At the moment we are doing our best to make return to the country easier for these people, with financial aid to returnees, but also by reconstruction of infrastructure in municipalities where the refugees are returning. These two things cannot be separated. We are also considering the idea of giving loans for private entrepreneurship. As concerning deadlines for return of refugees, that issue will most probably be reconsiudered in spring this year, and the decision will be made based on the situation in the field. The real problem will nevertheless be in regions where there had been ethnic cleansing".
Whatever decision the Swiss authorities may reach, according to the words of Hamdija Razic, it will not affect the "exceptionally favourable impression the Swiss have made on our refugees in the past years". Nevertheless, as he says, "it was a long process which proved in the end to have been worth the trouble".
"One of our initial tasks was to establish friendly relations with these people. In the beginning it was very difficult, especially because of the completely wrong picture they had about our people and the situation in B&H. Very quickly, however, we managed to see eye to eye and we can say that we are more than satisfied with the way the Swiss treated us. The aid, although different for different categories of refugees, which we were receiving all the time in this country, was exceptionally good", says Razic.
For example, the lowest amount of aid, for refugees with the so-called F, L or N visas, amounted to 13 francs a day, while the aid for refugees with B visas, that is for camp inmates from Manjaca who were brought directly from the camp to Switzerland, was somewhat higher. The same category of refugees had priority for accommodation. Although the possibility of employment was also anticipated, Razic says that this privilege was used by just a few.