'Many Sarajevos' tear people from their roots

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The Independent Online
THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, estimated last week that about 2.2 million people had been uprooted by the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. That represents almost one in 10 of the pre- war population. It adds up to the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of the Second World War, when up to 10 million Germans fled or were forced out of their homes in eastern Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

'Let us not forget that there are many Sarajevos,' Mrs Ogata said after visiting the Bosnian capital. 'All over the former Yugoslavia, there are untold thousands of others who have been trapped for months in their villages and who are in dire need of food and medicine.'

About 1.75 million refugees are inside the six republics that comprised Yugoslavia, and more than 400,000 are in other countries. According to figures supplied by national governments, 200,000 are in Germany, 100,000 in Hungary, 30,000 in Sweden, 20,000 in Austria, 13,000 in Switzerland, 4,000 in the Netherlands, 2,000 each in Italy and Norway, 1,300 in Britain, 1,000 in Denmark, and 40,000 elsewhere.

Inside the former Yugoslavia, the UNHCR believes there are 593,000 refugees in Bosnia, 577,500 in Croatia, 373,500 in Serbia, 69,000 in UN Protected Areas in Croatia, 63,000 in Slovenia, 48,500 in Montenegro and 28,000 in Macedonia. About two- thirds of all these refugees have been displaced from Bosnia, and about one-third from Croatia.

The crisis assumed dramatic proportions at the start of last week when the Croatian government declared that it was 'on the verge of social and economic collapse' and said it could accept no more refugees from Bosnia. Instead, they would be shunted to the Hungarian and Slovenian borders. However, Hungary is at bursting point and has, at times, had to turn people back. Slovenia says it will take refugees only if a third country, such as Germany, Austria or Italy, agrees to accommodate them.

Austria and Italy have not yet agreed to that, and Germany is already under immense strain.

The ceasefire agreed at last week's talks in London between the leaders of Bosnia's Serbian, Croatian and Muslim Slav communities calls for the safe return of all refugees to their homes. In practice, this will prove impossible for many thousands of people. Their houses have been razed to the ground or blasted to pieces.

Some areas previously inhabited by one ethnic group have been resettled by another nationality - in many cases, by people who were themselves refugees.