Bosnia victims cannot stay in Britain: War refugees are being kept in limbo over their future. Marianne Macdonald reports

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The Independent Online
NONE of the Bosnians flown to Britain from Serbian labour camps, or airlifted for medical treatment in Operation Irma, has the right to remain permanently in Britain, the Home Office said yesterday.

The decision goes against the fact that the Refugee Council - which is providing for the refugees using Home Office funding - has already arranged long-term housing for two- thirds of the 700 Bosnian ex-detainees and their families who have come to Britain since December.

Those not yet in permanent accommodation are waiting in reception centres in Rugby, Dewsbury, Berwick, Cambridge and Hammersmith. Once they have left the centres they will have the right to draw benefit. 'We would stress we would not insist they return to an area of the world which is a war zone. But they don't have the right to stay,' a Home Office spokesman said.

The Government's official version is that the 700 Bosnians accepted by Britain on humanitarian grounds had six-month visas extended recently for a further year. But insiders believe they will never be forced to leave. The position of the other asylum seekers is less secure.

At least 7,000 former Yugoslavians have fled to Britain using student and tourist visas before applying for refugee status. However, these refugees are denied the rights of the 700 ex-

detainees and the 35 Bosnian medical evacuees and their families.

They are forbidden to bring relatives to join them and are less likely to secure a housing association house or flat. So far, 7,000 have applied to stay permanently but the Home Office has failed to rule on their status due to a backlog in asylum applications. In the interim, they remain here and exist on benefits.

Ironically, they can only claim 90 per cent Income Support, although the ex-detainees and medical evacuees are entitled to the full amount. 'The disparity is very unfair. Some of the asylum seekers are getting quite a rough deal. They cannot bring their families yet they are escaping the same situation,' Nick Scott-Flynn, who co-ordinates the Bosnia Project for the Refugee Council, said.

Meanwhile, six Bosnian men evacuated in the mercy airlift 10 days ago were yesterday discharged from hospitals. Four have been treated for eye injuries caused by shrapnel, three at Moorfields Eye Hospital in north-east London, and the fourth at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. The three who left Moorfields were Zaim Pasic, 34, who had lost his left eye; Nedim Dilberovic, 23, who had damage to his left cornea; and Devan Dedovic, 29, who had had his left arm amputated and injuries to both eyes. They will be housed in refugee hostels in London.

Slavko Martinovic, 39, who underwent surgery to remove a bullet from his arm, and 36-year-old Nazmija Grobovic, who was operated on to remove shrapnel from his arms, were discharged from St James's Hospital, Leeds, to refugee hostels.

Ahdin Dugonjic, 27, a dental technician, was discharged from Radcliffe to live with a British family.

Mr Dugonjic, who missed his wedding to join the airlift, underwent reconstructive surgery to his nose and an eyelid. He told a news conference: 'I'm a very lucky man to have been able to come to Great Britain. I am happy but I am also sorry because many people back home are hurt much worse and they are still there.'

The other Bosnian treated at Radcliffe Infirmary was Senad Mirvic, 26, a welder who lost an eye. He was yesterday transferred to the nearby John Radcliffe hospital for further treatment and will soon join Mr Dugonjic with his host family.

Further reports, page 6