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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

    MON, 08 DEC 1997 12:24:55 GMT

    Non-Governmental Organizations and Refugees

    "I AM NEITHER HERE NOR THERE"

    Almost three million people from the territory of the former Yugoslavia are either refugees or displaced persons. Every day they are further from their homes and home country. There is a true danger of ethnic cleansing thus being valorized, which was one of the objectives of the war waged on these territories.

    AIM, BELGRADE, November 26, 1997

    Non-governmental organizations gathered at the Regional Conference in Belgrade publicly raised their voices against all those who deny the refugees the right of return to their homes and by trading in human destinies reward the war lords - said the participant of this first Regional Conference "Non-governmental Organizations and Refugees" in their Declaration adopted after a two-day meeting held late last week in Belgrade and organized by the Humanitarian - Informational and Educational Center for Refugees "Reply".

    Efforts exerted by the activists of non-governmental organizations at promoting and implementing durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons from the territory of former Yugoslavia often do not produce desired results as this process is not endorsed by the political elites of the newly created states which deliberately and calculatedly obstruct the most just solution for refugee problems - mass and organized return of refugees to their homes.

    This was also confirmed by Ankica Mikic from the Center for Psychological and Social Work in Vukovar, who pointed out that the Croatian side was not respecting the provisions of the Erdut Agreement relating to the return of refugees: "The Croatian signatory publicly stated that the aim of Croatia is only for the Croats to return to their homes, and that the document on two-way return was signed only because of the pressure of the international community. Our property is given away to the Croats from Vojvodina, Bosnia and Kosovo".

    She corroborated this claim with her own experience. Namely, although she had applied to the Office four months ago asking permission to return home to Osijek which, according to the law, was obliged to reply to her request within two weeks, she did not receive anything yet. On the other hand, she recently saw on Osijek TV an auction organized for the sale of her things and furniture.

    Professor Dr.Miodrag Zivanovic vividly described what was it like in Banjaluka: "As soon as someone raises the question of the return of families, threats start, and the local media broadcast morbid programmes frightening people out of their wits so that the returnees go back to where they have started from and the new ones do not dare go. When the Banjaluka TV broadcast the names of six Bosniac families who wished to return, their houses were razed to the ground with bulldozers that same night".

    "For several years now I have been saying that there are four constitutive nations in B&H: the Bosniacs, Croats, Serbs and refugees. The political parties which allegedly represent their nations, uphold the concept of the return of refugees only to environments in which they represent the majority. This is, unfortunately, supported by the international community which is thereby insisting on the completion of the process of ethnic cleansing", claimed Zivanovic and said that it was not surprising the process of the resettlement of refugees in third countries was much more intensive than that of their return to their homes: "In embassies in Belgrade only there are 20,000 requests for emigration from the RS which represents 100,000, naturally young and educated people. I am afraid that we shall end up with a state without people".

    Sejfudin Tokic from the "Coalition for the Return" from Sarajevo, warned that "citizens from this part of Europe are united in their misfortune, while the ruling oligarchies are united in their efforts to prevent the return of refugees and displaced persons". Therefore, according to Tokic, the priority task of non-governmental organizations should be the annulment of legal regulations which are in favour of keeping the status quo, the engagement of the public and the implementation of endogenous projects for the return.

    Although despair, hopelessness and depravation of refugees of all rights emanated from many discussions at the daily panels, one could not but admire the persistence and enthusiasm of the activists of non-governmental organizations in assisting refugees to overcome the so called, invisible effects of the refugee status: psycho-social assistance, legal protection, work engagement, helping them to organize themselves.

    Along with the thanks expressed to the international community for the efforts it had exerted and is still exerting to assist refugees from the territories of the former Yugoslavia, some proposals and activities were also criticized, especially those concerning the return of refugees. Vehid Sehic, from the Tuzla Civil Forum, for example, pointed out that as much as two thousand families have returned to Bosnia without the help of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, while this organization "proudly announces to help the return of as much as 29 families in the next year".

    Vehid Sehic also criticized the project of open cities. He thought that with "the programme of open cities for the return of refugees, the UNHCR was in violation of the Dayton Agreement and Annex 7 which explicitly states that everyone could return, and not only the citizens of open cities. Instead of proclaiming certain cities open, the entire Bosnia should be proclaimed open state so that all its citizens could return, and not be prevented in that by the nationalistic elites".

    Within the Conference a debate was organized on the problem of refugees and the media. Journalists, participants in the Conference, from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia agreed that the authorities in all parts still manipulate the refugees through their media, that state-controlled media in the Republics of former Yugoslav have contributed to the outbreak of war and ethnic persecutions, as well as that today they deal with refugees only when it is in the interest of the ruling elites.

    "If there is a profession which should be ashamed of itself after this war, then it is journalism. It would not be far fetched to claim that the media have greatly participated in the creation of the Yugoslav drama. The journalistic profession has hit the bottom and that is the most cruel, dirty and tragic experience", said Zrnka Novak from Zagreb.

    Vehid Jahic from Tuzla and Ratko Vlado Aleksic from Porec disagreed with her concept of the collective guilt of the profession and pointed out that it was only possible to speak of the individual guilt of journalists.

    "Already in 1990, although I did not change the system and the state, I gave myself the liberty of being free. I refuse collective guilt. When speaking of guilt I would like all of us to behave as citizens and not as members of a pack of animals. I can only be responsible for what I, as an individual, have written and signed", emphasized Aleksic adding: "The refugees are a result of the policies of these three regimes and the solution lies not in changing beds or wallpaper in brothels, but in changing these politicians".

    Irrespective of the fact that refugees are no longer interesting for the media as, as Mirko Vid Mlakar from Split had put it, "in the refugee camp there are no news, no sensations which sell the paper, but only years of misery and desolation", the participants in the discussion pointed out the importance of journalists dealing as much as possible with refugee subjects and refusing to give in to influences of the type - what more do these refugees want - and not writing about them only when that is "beneficial for the circulation of their paper" or required by the state propaganda.

    People who have condensed their tragic fate into the words "I am neither here nor there", more than deserve that.

    Vesna Bjekic (AIM)