Refugees' trail of misery

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The Independent Online
IN HALL 33 of Vienna's vast exhibition centre, Ruza Jovic sat on her camp bed and wept. 'I have got four sons and don't know where any of them are,' she cried. 'We have lost everything: our homes, our cattle, our republic, our families. You cannot imagine what we have been through. But at least we are out; we are safe.'

Her words triggered off further tears in the eyes of many of the more than 800 Bosnian Muslims and Croats who were given refuge in Austria on Saturday after a 36- hour wait in desperately overcrowded trains on the border between Croatia and Slovenia.

The refugees, mostly over 60 or children under 18, have nearly all been separated from brothers, mothers or husbands as a result of the fighting in Bosnia. They huddled together yesterday in the hastily erected exhibition hall refugee centre, clutching plastic bags bearing the only possessions they had been able to gather together before fleeing.

'This is all I have got left,' said Lisinovic Munib, pointing to the clothes he had on. 'They (the Serbs) have robbed me of everything.'

On the train that brought them to Austria, many were screaming from their wounds. At least two people died on the journey.

The Bosnians in Vienna are among the thousands who have recently been expelled from their country by Serbian guerrilla fighters conducting a campaign of 'ethnic cleansing'.

Most of the recent refugee wave entered Croatia over the past two weeks and were put in temporary camps while the authorities in Zagreb, overwhelmed by a flood of nearly 600,000 refugees, tried to work out what to do with them.

On Thursday, Mrs Jovic and her husband, Jozo, in a group in a camp near Nova Gradiska, were put on a train to Zagreb, where they joined an estimated 4,000 recent refugees from Bosnia. They were put in three trains while the Croatian government sought permission to send them elsewhere.

'The trains were so crowded people had to sleep in the corridors,' said Franjo Pranic, a Bosnian Croat who bears the marks of beatings from the rifle-butts of Serbian guerrilla fighters.

The Jovics and Mr Pranic were on the train held up in Saveskimarof, close to the Slovenian border. At 5am on Saturday, the train at Saveskimarof began the journey to Vienna after the Austrian government agreed to accept the 824 refugees on board on humanitarian grounds.

'When we finally got to Austria, local people handed us sweets and food and water through the windows,' said Mr Pranic. 'It was lovely, but nothing can compensate for what we have lost. We do not want to stay here, but if the West does not intervene we will never be able to go back. The enemy is too strong.'

TRIESTE (Agencies) - After waiting days, more than 550 refugees, mainly women and children, fleeing from the fighting in Bosnia, arrived in Italy by train yesterday. Two planeloads of more than 100 children evacuated on Saturday from Sarajevo were also expected in Milan last night.

On Saturday several countries, including Italy, appealed for international aid for the exodus.

A train packed with 2,000 Bosnian refugees remained blocked at Zapresic in Croatia yesterday, despite arrangements to travel late on Saturday to the Croatian port of Rijeka, the Croatian news agency HINA reported. The train in Zapresic, 13 miles north of Zagreb, contained mostly retreating Bosnian soldiers as well as some women and children.

(Photograph omitted)

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