Refugees set deadline on 'broken promises': Edward Pilkington meets ethnic cleansing victims desperate to be reunited with their families

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN REFUGEES rescued from Serbian detention camps and brought to Britain by the Government say they will go back to Bosnia unless they are reunited soon with their families.

The Bosnians, victims of 'ethnic cleansing', claim that before leaving Croatia they were officially promised their families would join them within two weeks. That was four weeks ago.

'I have lost everything in this war,' said Ekrem, an engineer from northern Bosnia. 'My only reason to live is my wife and two children. If they don't come soon I am going back to find them. I feel I have been used by the British Government so that it can say to the world it is doing something to help Bosnians.'

The 166 Bosnians arrived in Britain on 17 December and are being cared for by the Refugee Council. They were the first of up to 1,000 detainees and their dependents to whom the Government intends to offer a temporary haven. Among them are 100 Muslim men who came alone. Several had already been reunited with their families in a refugee camp in Karlovac, Croatia. They are angry because they say they only agreed to leave their wives and children behind on the understanding that separation would last no longer than a fortnight.

The men claim the two-week pledge was made by a representative of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which runs the Karlovac camp and is acting as the British Government's agent. A UNHCR spokesman in Zagreb denied any firm commitments were made. 'It is our policy never to say that families will be following within a certain time limit,' he said.

Who exactly was responsible for what happened in Karlovac is shrouded in confusion. But the Bosnians blame the British Government. 'I used to think Britain kept its promises,' said Huse, a grocer. 'Now I'm not so sure. If I had known that there was doubt about my family coming I would not have come.'

The Home Office said it had nothing to do with any misunderstanding. 'We have always said that we cannot predict when families will arrive because it depends on the work of UNHCR and the International Red Cross in tracing them,' a spokeswoman said.

The Home Office says that families will be fetched 'as soon as possible', but has imposed a strict definition on dependents, limiting it to spouses and children under 18. Many of the refugees believe this will exclude close relatives such as parents or older children.

There is also doubt over how long the Bosnians will be allowed to stay. The Home Office calls them 'evacuees', not refugees, and is channelling them outside normal refugee procedures. It says they will be able to stay initially for six months; thereafter, each case will be looked at on an 'individual basis'.