New wave of refugees faces sealed borders

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The Independent Online
MASS deportations of Bosnians by Serbian forces have provoked a refugee crisis in neighbouring countries. European governments are shutting out immigrants, following a fresh exodus from the country. Austria, Slovenia, Germany and Hungary have all turned back people at their borders over the past few days.

Perhaps 2 million inhabitants of the former Yugoslav republics have been displaced by fighting, a million from Bosnia-Herzegovina alone. But last week a fresh wave of refugees left Yugoslavia, many of them Muslims with new documents. Refugee officials suspect that Serbia has been issuing passports and forcibly evicting minorities, especially Bosnians, as part of its 'ethnic cleansing' operation.

Delegates to the parliamentary assembly of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) yesterday accused Serbia of mass deportations. In a resolution they expressed 'deep astonishment and grave concern over the forceful displacement of the population of non-Serbian ethnic origin from Bosnia-Herzegovina, forcing them to emigrate to neighbouring countries'.

'The refugee problem has taken on a new dimension: the deportation of people, and in such a way - at times in sealed railway wagons - that is reminiscent of a time in Europe that we thought we had finally left behind,' the Austrian delegate, Peter Schieder, said on the final day of the three- day meeting.

By far the largest concentration of refugees from the recent crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina is in Croatia, which as well as housing about a million Croats who have fled fighting, also has 275,000 Bosnian refugees. But the problem has spread out to other countries in the region and beyond, causing several to put up the shutters.

More than 2,000 Muslim refugees arrived in Hungary last week from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many of them had been packed into railway carriages by Serbian militiamen. On Saturday, Hungarian border guards sent 49 Bosnians without visas back to Yugoslavia. Hungary called yesterday for international action against organised deportations of Bosnians by Belgrade, and assistance for refugees.

Clampdowns in neighbouring countries have put increasing pressure on Hungary, which already hosts about 50,000 Yugoslav refugees among a refugee population of 100,000. Austria and Slovenia, the last two havens for Bosnian refugees, last week imposed visa requirements on Yugoslav passport holders.

The Austrian Interior Minister, Franz Loeschnak, and the Foreign Minister, Alois Mock, warned that their country's capacity to shelter refugees was practically exhausted, and that refugee centres were overflowing. The Chancellor, Franz Vranitzky, has complained that Austria is facing the refugee problem almost alone.

Many of those refused entry to Austria have returned to Hungary. On Thursday, Austrian authorities refused to accept a train carrying 784 Bosnian refugees, nearly all with passports recently issued in Belgrade. The train was directed to the Nagyatad camp in Hungary, which holds 4,000 refugees and is already full.

With 63,000 refugees in Slovenia, refugee camps in the former northern Yugoslav republic are also overflowing. Slovenia's deputy prime minister, Joze Pucnik, said last week that the situation had become 'explosive' and was imposing an 'enormous' burden.

Sweden and Denmark both barred entry to people from Bosnia last week, and the Netherlands and Luxembourg said visas would once again be necessary for people with Yugoslav passports. Germany already imposes that condition for Bosnians and last week refused to allow a group of Yugoslavs to enter from the Netherlands, angering Dutch officials.

Refugee officials say that the West has done little to assist and that Middle Eastern nations have done nothing to support the Bosnian Muslims. Indeed, the Yugoslav problem has exacerbated an existing crisis over refugees in Western Europe, which had already led several countries to tighten their laws.

Last Wednesday, a new German law on asylum seekers came into effect. The German interior ministry announced that the number of foreigners seeking asylum in Germany in the first half of this year more than doubled compared with the first six months of 1991 - about 190,000 compared with 90,000. The highest number of applicants came from Yugoslavia, with 72,400. Denmark, traditionally open to asylum seekers, also tightened its Aliens Act last month and Sweden is in the process of following suit.