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Germany Asked Not to Repatriate Refugees
Not While War Criminals are in Control,
says Human Rights Organization

BONN, April 17 (Reuters) — A human rights group urged the Bonn government on Wednesday not to force thousands of Bosnian refugees in Germany to return to their homes in areas controlled by people they allege are war criminals. "It would be extremely irresponsible to repatriate refugees under the present circumstances — while war criminals are still controlling these areas," said Tilman Zuelch, the president of the Society for Threatened Peoples.

"In many cases refugees are former prisoners who survived death camps and detention centres. They suffered torture or witnessed atrocities. These are severely traumatized people." Germany, which hosts 320,000 Bosnian refugees, has taken in more refugees from former Yugoslavia than the rest of the European Union states put together. After last year's Dayton peace agreement guaranteed the safe return of refugees, the German authorities said they should start leaving from July.

Most of the refugees in Germany are Bosnian Muslims and want to go home, Zuelch said, but not before war criminals had been brought to justice and local elections were held. A recent poll commissioned by the German branch of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that 45 percent of Bosnian refugees in Germany were not convinced conditions were right for their return. Of those polled 37.5 percent feared renewed hostilities and more than 35 percent said their home districts were populated and controlled by other communal groups.

In a sign of growing concern over how to persuade the refugees to go home, Bonn is sending 83 more police officers to Bosnia to help re-establish civic authorities and create the right conditions for refugees' return. That will boost the total number of German police officers in Bosnia to around 150. "The conflict parties are urged to extend the hand of reconciliation and bridge the deep gulf of hatred," Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in a statement, indirectly urging the refugees to overcome their misgivings.

At the Bonn news conference, the Society for Threatened Peoples presented Bosnian refugees who said they were terrified of returning home. A Bosnian Muslim described how Bosnian Serb forces seized control of the Prijedor district in Bosnia and forced him to switch from working as refuse collector to collector of corpses — many victims of the notorious Omarska death camp. The man, identified only as N, fled to Germany in 1994 with his wife and children who he said were deeply traumatised by the war. "I'm concerned for my family. My life is worthless, but I'm worried what will happen to the young when they return."

Additional resources
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

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