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Bosnia: Germany Tries To Persuade Refugees To Return Home

Munich, 17 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As pressure grows in Germany for Bosnian refugees to return home, the German province of Baden Wurttemburg has announced it will offer cash incentives and specialized training to Muslim and other refugees willing to return to the Republika Srpska.

Refugees who voluntarily return to the Serb-controlled region before the end of July will receive between 500 and 1000 D-marks, that it, between $275 and $550, in "start-up" money to help their resettlement. The provincial government has set aside millions of marks to pay for the program.

In addition, the Baden Wurttemburg government is willing to provide training to tradesmen who are ready to return to the Republika Srpska and open their own business. The assistance includes a one-week seminar and two weeks practical training. A spokesman told RFE/RL that with the help of the World Bank, the province is prepared to provide a loan of between 4,000 and 10,000 marks as starting capital for such businessmen.

The Baden-Wurttemburg program is one of the most ambitious being offered by German provinces to encourage reluctant Muslim refugees to return to their old homes in the Republika Srpska. Most are reluctant to go voluntarily because they fear they will be met by hostility and violence by the Serbs who control the region.

Their fears makes the Government repatriation program controversial in Germany. Many ordinary Germans also believe that Muslims returning to Serb-controlled areas will face not only hostility but possibly violence. German media have given wide publicity to acts of violence which have actually occurred. At the height of the Bosnian war, Germany offered sanctuary to more refugees than any other country in Europe. Around 400,000 were found accommodation and jobs in the 16 German provinces. But Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said earlier this month that only about 100,000 had returned home. About 60 per cent of those remaining were Muslims and other minorities who came from what is now the Republika Srpska.

The main reason for Germany's drive to persuade the refugees to go home is economic. Germany has provided about 17,000 million marks since 1991 to care for the refugees and the Government says that in the current depressed financial situation it cannot afford these sums. In the specific case of Baden-Wurttemburg, the government says caring for the refugees cost 158 million marks in 1996 alone. Around 30,000 refugees remain in Baden-Wurttemburg.

The German federal and provincial governments argue that the situation in the Republika Srpska has improved with the recent election of Milorad Dodik as prime minister and the refugees have less to fear. Foreign minister Klaus Kinkel said earlier this month that with the election of Dodik, the Republika Srpska now had a Government fully committed to the Dayton peace agreement, including the return of refugees. Kinkel declared 1998 to be the "year of the return of the Bosnian refugees" and said thousands would be under pressure to return in the next few months.

The pressure is expected to intensify in April, after the end of the winter. Baden Wurttemburg and the neighboring province of Bavaria have already declared that as of April they will begin a new campaign to deport some refugees. Those at the top of the list for forced repatriation include those who have been convicted of crimes in Germany and those who fled to Germany after the Dayton accords came into effect on December 15, 1995.

Most of the authorities in the 16 German provinces have promised to take special circumstances into account. Most recognize inter-ethnic marriages of say a Serb and Muslim as a special case and they will be given more time before pressure is exerted on them to leave. In the case of families with school-age children, the authorities will take into account the school year. Apprentices who began their training by January 1996 at the latest will be allowed to stay until they pass their exams.

A spokesman for the Baden-Wurttemburg provincial government said today that although the emphasis is now on returning refugees to the Republika Srprska, the German authorities recognized there were also problems in returning refugees to Croatia and to Sarajevo. He said Germany is applying pressure to Croatian president Franjo Tudjman to allow Serb refugees to return to their homes. Strong international pressure is being applied to Sarajevo, which has a poor record in allowing the return of non-Muslim refugees. Earlier this month (Feb. 3), an international conference adopted a declaration saying that at least 20,000 non-Muslims must be allowed to return to the city by the end of the year. If the Sarajevo authorities fail to meet the target they may face a cut in financial aid.