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Bosnia/Germany: Foreign Minister Urges Changes In Repatriation Policy

Munich, 9 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A visit to Bosnia by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel has exposed differences between the federal government and Germany's 16 provinces over repatriating Bosnian refugees.

Kinkel went to Sarajevo this week to see for himself the situation which would meet the refugees in Germany if they went back now. He inspected new housing sites, and talked to U.N. officials and Sarajevo local government officers about job possibilities. He asked where returning refugees could be relocated. He asked whether those who came from areas now controlled by the Serbs could return home.

Repatriation of refugees is not really the business of the foreign minister or even of the federal government. Decisions on repatriation are made by the interior ministers of the 16 German provinces, whose governments bear the cost of supporting 300,000 refugees.

Kinkel asked four provincial ministers to accompany him to Sarajevo. Three declined. And the one provincial interior minister who did accompany Kinkel is quoted in the German press today as disagreeing with the foreign ministers views.

The provincial interior ministers have adopted a policy that repatriation should be based on the family situations of the refugees. Until now single men and women and married couples without children have led the list. Since May 1, the provinces have begun repatriating families. The goal of the provinces is to return most of the refugees by the end of this year and have them all back home by summer next year.

After his tour of Sarajevo, Kinkel told accompanying correspondents that Germany should develop a new concept for repatriation. Instead of simply returning refugees to Bosnia, it should base its decisions on what is likely to happen to them when they get there.

He said that in practice, this means the provincial interior ministers should accept the fact that Muslim refugees cannot now be returned to areas controlled by the Serbs. He said the basis for repatriation should be a list of 39 secure areas drawn up by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.

Kinkel said he already has asked the provincial interior ministers to provide detailed information about the home places in Bosnia of the 300,000 refugees in Germany to be considered in repatriation decisions. So far information has been provided only for about 80,000 refugees.

The one provincial interior minister who accompanied Kinkel to Sarajevo is quoted in the press today he sees no reason for a change. He is Rudi Geil of Lower Saxony, chairman of the conference of provincial interior ministers.

The main argument offered by the provinces is that providing housing and social services for the refugees is too heavy a financial burden, particularly now when Germany is enduring an economic crisis and money is tighter than it was in the past. Some provinces have reduced the social benefits for refugees in another effort to persuade them to return voluntarily. Some interior ministers have also declared that the refugees have a duty to return to Bosnia to help in the rebuilding of their country.