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Bosnia: Berlin Program Encouraged Refugees To Return

  • Roland Eggleston

Berlin, 2 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Nearly 1,500 Bosnian families in Berlin have taken advantage of a repatriation program which provided financial assistance to both refugees returning to Yugoslavia and the town which accepted them.

The program, which began early in April, closed on Friday. A Berlin city spokesman said today the last families appeared at the office on Friday night.

Most of the 1,432 families who accepted the program are Muslims or Croats who fled from "ethnically cleansed" areas of the Republika Srpska. Together they account for 3,750 people. The city spokesman said this is about one-fifth of the Bosnian refugee population in Berlin.

The Berlin program offered a maximum of DM 9,000 for families returning to Bosnia and a maximum of DM 8,000 for the communities which accepted them. Adult and teenage members of the family received DM 2,500 each and younger children DM 1,000. The communities which accepted them received DM 1,000 for each individual.

To avoid cheating, the money is paid only after the returnees have settled into the community.

The Berlin city spokesman said today the program paid for itself by savings on the housing and other support which the city gave the refugees. He estimated these costs at about DM 5,000 a month per family. He said the costs of the repatriation program should be covered in four to five months

No other German local authority offers such a repatriation program. Some do assist returning refugees, but with smaller amounts of money. No other authority offers financial benefits to the community receiving the refugees.

The Berlin spokesman said the assistance program was deliberately limited to two months to encourage the refugees to make a quick decision. He declined to say whether there would be another program later in the year.