Saving Sarajevo: Refugee crisis set to worsen as resources shrink: Millions Displaced

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The Independent Online
THE wars in former Yugoslavia have generated Europe's biggest refugee crisis since the late 1940s, with more than 4 million people displaced within and outside the pre-war Yugoslav borders. The storm is most violent in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where more than 2.2 million people have fled or been driven from their homes, but Serbia and Croatia are also burdened with a refugee problem that is stretching their meagre resources to the limit.

According to international relief groups, more than 3.6 million refugees and displaced people are in the former Yugoslavia. Almost 700,000 more former Yugoslav citizens sought sanctuary in 1992 in other European countries. Still others went abroad in 1991, when the wars in Slovenia and Croatia broke out. In all, out of more than 23 million people who lived in Yugoslavia before the war, it seems likely that almost one in five is a refugee or a displaced person.

Serbian relief organisations estimate that at least 600,000 refugees have entered Serbia and Montenegro since the wars broke out in June 1991. These include 140,000 children aged between seven and 18, and 1,200 children without parents. Most refugees are Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia, but the figures include Muslims, Croats and other nationalities.

Most refugees have found accommodation with families, but Serbia's economy is in such disastrous shape that aid groups fear the condition of the refugees - and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Serbs - can only get worse. The wars, United Nations sanctions, mismanagement and Communist Yugoslavia's legacy have combined to produce the world's highest inflation - 367 per cent in June alone; perhaps 700 per cent this month. One in two Serbian factories has closed, unemployment has boomed, output has slumped and many essential goods are scarce.

In real terms, an average Serbian salary has fallen to less than pounds 7 a month, enough to buy just one kilogram of lemons and some bread and biscuits in Belgrade's shops. The Serbian Red Cross says hospitals and pharmacies lack basic supplies and is appealing to foreign aid groups to send food, clothes and cleansing agents as well as medical items.

The Red Cross and the Belgrade office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are setting up housing estates for people whose homes have been destroyed in the war. Mary Jane Popovic, a UNHCR representative, said her organisation had allocated dollars 7m ( pounds 4.67m) to house 16,000 refugees by the autumn.

As of last December, Croatia was hosting almost 670,000 refugees. More than half were Bosnian Muslims; most others were Croats from Serbian-occupied parts of Croatia. Tens of thousands were put up in hotels, hostels and camp sites on the Adriatic coast, but the Croatian government recently moved many of them to help the tourist industry, the lifeblood of Croatia's economy.

Croatian-Muslim battles in central and southern Bosnia this year have turned 117,000 Croats and 73,000 other people into refugees in HerzegBosnia, the Bosnian Croat satellite state of Croatia. Bosnian Croat leaders say that Muslim forces have expelled Croats from seven towns: Konjic, Jablanica, Fojnica, Travnik, Kakanj, Zenica and Bugojno.

Croatia complains the world has denounced Croatian expulsions of Muslims but not Muslim actions against Croats. Earlier this month, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia said: 'If the Muslim leadership does not take real steps to stop that war, to stop the ethnic cleansing of Croats in central Bosnia . . . we shall have to take counter-measures, even regarding the physical protection of Muslim refugees currently in Croatia.'