Refugees' hopes die in Hungary

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The Independent Online
KELEBIA, Hungary - Bosnian Muslims are taken by bitter surprise when asked to get off the trains at Hungary's southernmost railway checkpoint here instead of being allowed to travel on through the country to the longed-for West.

An average of 150 people from each international train arriving from the old Yugoslavia are escorted off by Hungarian authorities, since they have no visas to travel on towards western Europe.

Neighbouring Austria introduced a visa requirement for citizens of the former Yugoslavia two weeks ago, and since then has sent back approximately 2,000 Bosnians, most of them Muslims, at its border with Hungary in an attempt to keep out economic immigrants.

Though Austria pledged to continue to allow entry for war- stricken refugees, Hungarian border-guard and refugee officials said that Vienna was failing to uphold this promise and allow in Bosnian refugees.

Every night, after the Hungarian border guards tell them about the Austrian visa measures, some of the newly-arrived refugees turn back voluntarily to an unknown future in the rump Yugoslavia. But some decide to stay in Hungary - until things at home change for the better.

Hungary now has more than 55,000 refugees from former Yugoslav states, in addition to some 50,000 Romanians who fled during the 1989 revolution. But the Hungarian foreign ministry has reiterated that it did not plan to introduce visas for former Yugoslav citizens, despite the deepening refugee crisis.

In all, the fighting in the former Yugoslavia has forced some 2.2 million to flee their homes, and 500,000 of these have fled outside former Yugoslav territory, according to figures from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

Croatia, which is barely coping with its own battle with Serbia, is already caring for about 360,000 refugees from neighbouring Bosnia. But the Croatian government decided to harden its line this week, saying that all arriving Bosnian refugees would henceforth be transported directly to the Italian, Slovenian or Austrian borders.

Most of those on the trains into Hungary arrive with only one or two small bags, and the clothes they are wearing. Many left in haste.

One young mother of a two- month-old boy said: 'Most of us would like to go back home. But we can't. Serbian soldiers chased us away, threatening to set our house on fire. They said we should leave in an hour and should not take anything. And now the house is occupied.'

Refugee crisis, page 27

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