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Bosnia: Refugees Slowly Leaving Germany For Home

Bonn, 19 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The German government says 7,600 Bosnian refugees have voluntarily returned to their country since the beginning of this year. That is more than double the number who left in the same period last year.

Another 400 refugees have left Germany for other countries since the start of the year and about 100 have been forcibly deported to Bosnia.

The Federal Government official responsible for the return of refugees, Dietmar Schlee, said the higher number of voluntary returns reflected an improving situation in Bosnia, including the Republika Srpska.

He acknowledged that in some areas of Bosnia returning refugees still met hostility and found difficulty in re-establishing themselves, but said many of the problems were gradually being resolved.

Schlee said the trend towards voluntary repatriation became evident in the second half of last year. Around 114,500 Bosnian refugees either returned home or emigrated to other countries last year. About 49,600 left in the first half of the year but in the second half the number grew to 64,900.

Schlee said there are still about 220,000 Bosnian refugees in Germany. A new campaign to encourage them to return home will begin next month after the winter recedes.

The province of Baden-Wurttemburg is already offering cash incentives and specialized training to Muslims and other refugees willing to return to their old homes in the Republika Srpska by the end of July. With the help of the World Bank, it has also offered a training program and start-up capital for tradesmen who are willing to open their own business in the Republika Srpska.

A spokesman for the Baden-Wurttemburg provincial government said today that although the emphasis is on returning refugees to the Republika Srpska, it recognizes that there are also problems in returning refugees to Croatia and to Sarajevo.

The international authorities involved in Bosnia have demanded that Sarajevo drop obstacles to the return of non-Muslims and said 20,000 should be allowed to return by the end of the year.