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BosNet Digest V5 #32 / Jan. 21, 1996

From: Nermin Zukic <n6zukic@SMS.BUSINESS.UWO.CA>

Bosnia-Herzegovina News Directory




    (Abridged translations by Bernard Meares)

    <> or <>

    Pierre HAZAN, writing in the Geneva/Lausanne paper Nouveau Quotidien*, 18 January 1996, says that by next summer the Swiss Federal Government (the Federal Council) intends to undertake the first repatriations of the 12,000 Bosnian refugees in the "temporary protection" category. Forcible returns are envisaged, it was stated by Federal Council member Arnold Koller at a UNHCR meeting held in Geneva on Tuesday . Koller made a very blunt statement:

    "We consider that if conditions so permit and the temporary protection status is suspended, returns that are other than voluntary should be considered if necessary".

    To arrange the repatriation of the Bosnians, the Swiss government is currently negotiating a bilateral agreement with the Sarajevo authorities. A meeting may well be held before the end of January between Muharem Cero, Bosnian Minister for Refugees, and Swiss Minister of Justice and Police, Arnold Koller.

    "The two governments share common concerns" notes Mustafa Bijedic, Bosnian Ambassador to Switzerland. Switzerland wants to rid itself of a financial burden that Koller has estimated at one billion Swiss francs (800 million dollars) since 1992. For its part, Bosnia wants to repopulate recently retaken areas, to revitalise its population and obtain economic reconstruction assistance, through aid given in return for taking back its refugees.

    Between the two countries the trade-off is thus perfectly clear: Switzerland will pay, and Bosnia will take back its people. Arnold Koller did not mince his words at the HCR meeting: "The Swiss Government considers that reconstruction aid can only be given when a state is ready to take back its citizens....", adding that "coordinated returns (i.e. forced returns - N. Quot.) and spontaneous repatriations must proceed in parallel. The Bosnian government has assured us that anyone returning to the country will be readmitted." Bern has thus made sure that Bosnia-Herzegovina will not raise any obstacles to enforced repatriations, unlike Serbia which will still not readmit Kosovars who reach Switzerland. The Sarajevo authorities seem to have gone along with the deal, says the Nouveau Quotidien.

    ".....We would simply like to draw attention to the fact that repatriations that are too precipitous could be a source of tension or even of military confrontation", said Ambassador Bijedic, though for him the key question seemed evidently to be the scale of economic assistance: "We could imagine a mass return so long as security considerations and material conditions permit. Every three months we could readmit 3000-5000 persons from Switzerland so long as we get financial assistance with which we could establish a minimum infrastructure for taking them in", he said.

    Koller meanwhile restated that by 31 March Switzerland would give 25 million Swiss francs (20+ million dollars) to Bosnia. Whether willingly or not, the 12,000 Bosnian refugees with "temporary protection" status will leave unless they have filed requests for political asylum or are recognized as refugees by statutory right. Victor Schlumpf, speaking for the Federal Department of Justice and Police, considered that "temporary protection status would be cancelled as a function of the regions of origin of Bosnians, depending on whether they have the minimum conditions of safety and re-integration".

    The Nouveau Quotidien article points out the unseemly haste with which international repatriation plans for more than two million Bosnians was drawn up with the signing of the Dayton accords scarcely dry on the paper, and though there both peace and security in Bosnia are still extraordinarily fragile.

    In a signed editorial by Sonia ZORAN, the newspaper criticises Koller for "showing muscle but no heart, or even a sense of reality". She states that Sarajevo's desire is to repopulate areas recently taken back from the Serb nationalists or parts of the country under its control that have been laid waste during the war. Which could mean installing displaced persons in areas they do not know. In return for financial assistance, says Zoran, the Bosnian government might designate new places of residence for displaced people without asking their opinion, whereas " he Dayton agreements provided for the return of refugees, where possible, to their places of origin".

    Zoran describes the Swiss-Bosnian agreement as "arrogant, as is Arnold Koller by profiting from Sarajevo's need for money and its desire to get back its population to rid Switzerland as soon as possible of human beings that cost too much". She asks whether Koller has ever met the refugees or knows anything about their fears of renewed fighting and of being again put to flight. She says that Bosnians in Switzerland have been neither informed nor consulted over his proposals. The supposed peaceful planning of repatriation in coordination with the UNHCR seems to be going by the board, to be replaced by a sense of haste, with one eye on the public purse strings and the other on the growing piles of applications for political asylum. What lies ahead for the Bosnians, tossed about for the last four years by "nationalists drunk with hatred", is a new forced flight into danger, while all Koller appears to want is to reduce the pile of applications for asylum.

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