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Bosnian Refugees Will Not Be Repatriated from Denmark

Copenhagen, June 18 (RFE/RL) - The Danish government has decided not to proceed with plans for forcible repatriation of Bosnian refugees.

Interior Minister Birte Weiss says that Denmark will follow the lead of Germany, which is delaying its own repatriation program.

Last winter, following the Dayton peace accords, the German government was preparing to send back a large part of the 320,000 Bosnian war refugees there, and Denmark planned similar action. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) approved of the plans.

But a Danish fact-finding mission to Bosnia returned with a report that conditions in Bosnia are unsafe for repatriates. The mission's report quotes a Danish government representative, Henriette Skovenborg, as saying the authorities in Bosnia are unwilling to take back war migrants who have found haven in the West. She also was reported to have said that the local authorities in Bosnia's seek first to re-settle the internally displaced persons.

About a million Bosnians fled the three-and-a-half year old war and settled in other parts of former Yugoslavia.

Bosnians living in Denmark believe that the Dayton peace accords will not hold for long and there is likely to be another war. Bosnian refugees say it would be impossible for them to start a new life in their homeland now, although they wish to return at some stage.

There are currently about 18 000 Bosnians in Denmark (total population 5.1 million).

According to Danish law, a refugee is entitled to a permanent residence permit after three years of uninterrupted stay in the country. This means that, in reality, only about 3,000 Bosnians were under threat of being repatriated.

Copenhagen's policy towards the refugees has been to encourage voluntary repatriation. So far, about 400 people have accepted offers for financial help for repatriates and have returned to Bosnia. Interior Minister Birte Weiss says there could be new talk of sending Bosnians backs after the elections in the republic scheduled for next autumn.