Letter: Let us open our doors to Irma's kinsmen

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The Independent Online
Sir: Irma Hadzimuratovic, Belma Salaka and any other Muslim, Serbian or Croatian child crippled or incapacitated by the fighting in Bosnia are the innocent victims of a terrible war and I rejoice in the hope that their lives may be saved. But I worry that once again we may be falling into the trap of concentrating our compassion and attention on a handful of victims.

Since March 1992, Western media attention has been strongly Sarajevo-centred. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Irmas and Milenas and Slobodans - tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Irma's fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces - suffering and dying throughout former Yugoslavia, mostly in Bosnia but also in Croatia. It would be easy to forget their plight by concentrating on Irma's.

There is also a danger that we may be diverted from ultimately more important tasks (because many more lives than Irma's will be saved), such as supporting the efforts of the two peacemakers, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, and the heroic work of the UNHCR.

My six months in Zagreb last year, when I had the privilege of leading the 16-nation European Community Monitoring Mission, took me through the whole emotional gamut. Like most other peacekeeper/makers involved in the horrors of the Yugoslav civil war, I came to the conclusion that effective external intervention would demand very large numbers of troops and that there was no public mandate in any of the Western countries that would have to supply the troops for such involvement.

It is easy to blame Western governments, including the British government, for not doing more - and for not doing the little they are doing more effectively - but the inescapable fact is that the man on the 88 bus or the New York subway or the Paris Metro does not want to see British or American or French troops committed to an all-out war in Bosnia.

It would be right to make a generous gesture to the victims of Bosnia's horror story by waiving the tough restrictions that we attach to would-be immigrants from former Yugoslavia. This country used to have a proud tradition of welcoming victims of persecution, refugees from Nazi Germany and Amin's Uganda as well as Hungarians in 1956, Czechoslovaks in 1968 and Poles in 1980.

Not only was this a gesture of compassion, it enriched our society, commercially as much as culturally. Surely we could open our doors more widely to the kinsmen of Irma, Milena and Slobodan. I like to believe that the British public would welcome such a move.

Yours faithfully,

RAMSAY MELHUISH

London, SW1

15 August

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