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Red Cross Fears Returning Bosnian Refugees Are Forgotten - 2002-12-24


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it fears many refugees who have returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina may leave again because the international community is not giving them the support they need. The lack of humanitarian assistance threatens to undermine the return process.

The International Red Cross said Bosnian returnees are suffering from neglect and, in many ways, are forgotten people.

Since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995, more than 900,000 refugees have returned home. That is more than 40 percent of those who fled the war. International Red Cross Spokesman Denis McClean said these people are receiving very little international assistance.

"It is a very serious problem because the people we are targeting are minority returneeselderly people and people with no fixed income. They have been away from home for several years in some cases and now they are going back to a situation where you have unemployment rates of 40 percent and where as many as 20 percent of the households are living below the poverty line. So there is not much social infrastructure in place to support them," Mr. McClean said.

The Red Cross is appealing for $670,000 to provide assistance to 30,000 returnees during the harsh winter months. They will receive firewood, stoves, hygiene articles, food parcels and other relief supplies.

Mr. McClean said the beneficiaries are among the most vulnerable of the returnees. They represent all ethnic groups - Muslims, Croats and Serbs - but most of them live in communities where they are ethnic minorities. He said it is important not to alienate the local people while helping the returnees.

Therefore, the spokesman said the Red Cross provides assistance to the communities as well as to the refugees who have returned. "Often the people who are already settled in these communities are in as dire as situation economically and socially as those who are returning. So in many cases it would seem quite unfair to just assist the returnees. So 20 percent of our assistance goes into the community as a whole," Mr. McClean said.

The Red Cross said the international community must pay more attention to the needs of the returnees if it wishes to keep them at home.

It notes almost 7,000 Bosnians have applied for asylum in other countries this year. Red Cross spokesman McClean is concerned that this reflects a desperation and lack of hope for the future that the international community must address.