Until now, less than 100 adults, childless couples and criminals have been sent back to former Yugoslavia, but "Phase 2" of the repatriation is about to begin.
On 1 May the authorities will start deporting about 100,000 of 315,000 refugees in Germany. "Those who do not leave voluntarily must reckon with being sent by force," said Gerhard Glogowski, interior minister of Lower Saxony yesterday.
On Tuesday, Germany deported 41 Bosnians. Though several on the plane were convicted criminals, most were ordinary people who fled the war in Bosnia. Many were crying as they stepped off the chartered plane at Sarajevo airport.
Jusuf and Sadbera Nukic were sound asleep in their room in a German boarding house in Altotting on Tuesday morning when the police pounded on the door and told them they had 15 minutes to pack before being deported to their native Bosnia. "They came in and yelled `Raus,' you must leave now," said Mrs Nukic who passed out from fear.
Given Germany's history and the fact that it is still unsafe for many of the refugees to return to Bosnia, few thought that the Germans would make good on their threats.
Mrs Nukic, who still had her pyjamas on underneath her clothes, broke down as she entered Sarajevo airport. "Where will we go now?" she asked.
The Nukics are Muslims from Janja, a village now in Serb-held territory. They were expelled by Bosnian Serbs in September 1994 after managing to survive in Serb-held territory for more than two years. The couple went to Germany to join their son and daughter who had fled two years earlier. When their residence papers expired last month, they said they asked the German authorities what they should do and were told to wait. "We told them that if we had a place to got back to, we would go back on our own, but we don't have a place to go," said Mr Nukic.
The Nukics' chances of ever going back to Janja are slim. Since the Dayton peace treaty was signed in November 1996, more Muslims and Croats have been expelled from Serb territory than have returned.
Officials from the UN High Commission for Refugees in Sarajevo were furious. "A deportation of Muslims from Republika Srpska [the Bosnian Serb entity] who have nowhere to go is the worst kind of deportation that there is," said Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman.
"We have asked the German government to continue to provide temporary protection to this group of people, but apparently they have not listened."
Human rights groups and Germany's Green party accuse officials of "heartlessness". Tilman Zulch, head of the German section of the Society for Threatened Peoples, says only about 15 per cent of the refugees in Germany have somewhere to go.
Many have no home to return to, and their homeland has fallen into the hands of a hostile ethnic authority. Muslims whose villages are now under Croat or Serbian control are forced to find shelter in an area run by the Muslim government. "Sending them back implies that Germany accepts `ethnic cleansing'," Mr Zulch says. Up to 30,000 refugees have returned voluntarily, but many did so out of fear of |"going home in chains".Reuse content