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Bosnia: German Provinces Soon To Return Refugees

Munich, 2 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- More German provinces have said they will soon begin the compulsory return of Bosnian refugees but there will be no mass deportations.

Among those which have announced they will begin the repatriation of single people and childless couples are North Rhine-Westfalia, Hessen, Saarland and Rhineland-Pfalz. Until now few Bosnians have been compelled to return from these provinces. Other provinces, particularly Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and Berlin, have already begun the forcible repatriation of refugees.

Under German law, the repatriation of refugees is controlled by the individual interior ministries in the 16 provinces.

The interior minister of North Rhine-Westfalia, Franz-Josef Kniola, recalled that agreement was reached last year the repatriation of singles and childless couples could begin in October 1996 but should begin at the latest in April this year. He said this category covers about 80,000 of the 315,000 Bosnian refugees still in Germany.

About 60,000 of them are accommodated in North Rhine-Westfalia, which also has the most-developed program of assistance for those willing to return home voluntarily.

Some German provinces, particularly Bavaria, have been criticized by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international organizations for pressing the return home of the refugees with little regard for the actual conditions in Bosnia. Some German politicians, including the former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, have added their voices to appeals to the interior ministries to pay more attention to the real situation in Bosnia, particularly the impossibility of returning Muslims to areas now controlled by the Serbs.

The current foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, said earlier this week that Germany should be "humane" in the repatriation of the Bosnian refugees. "We are dealing with human beings, some of whom have been living among us for many years," Kinkel said. "They cannot just be sent back overnight because of a mechanical process."

There has been little criticism in Germany of yesterday's repatriation to Bosnia of 31 orphans aged between 5 and 12 from the province of Sachsen-Anhalt. Their return had been sought by the Bosnian authorities since May last year.

Forty-two orphans were brought to Germany in August 1992 in a spectacular action by two provincial parliamentarians from Sachsen-Anhalt. They received special treatment throughout their stay in Sachsen-Anhalt, including classes to build their knowledge of their own language. Eleven of them were returned home earlier.

German officials said today there were signs that more Bosnian refugees are preparing to return voluntarily. More than 300 of them -- in 117 families -- left Berlin over the Easter weekend in a convoy of lorries laden with building material and other goods. All came from the Bosnian town of Odzak and are returning there.

Berlin city officials said today the operation was a model for other refugees planning a return home, although they agreed that it was an advantage that all came from the same town. The return had been in preparation for the past six months. The men in the group took advantage of a German offer to pay for a "trial" return home last year and came back with a detailed list of what they needed to resettle in their war-damaged town. They also formed an association which met regularly to discuss problems, including the psychological fears of some of the group.

They also received assistance from the Berlin authorities and from a private group, the South-east European Cultural Association led by Mrs. Bosiljka Schedlich. The Berlin authorities provided some financial assistance for the transport of the convoy of building material and other goods. Mrs. Schedlich organized seminars where the returnees were able to discuss practical problems.