European Divisions Persist Over Yugoslavia's Refugees
Germans criticize other Europeans for not taking in more displaced by war
DESPITE promises this week of new money and redoubled efforts, European countries remain divided over how to address the deepening tragedy of the former Yugoslavia's refugees.Skip to next paragraph
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With nearly 2.5 million people already displaced by the year-old war and an estimated 10,000 new refugees added each day to that total, Western countries meeting in Geneva Wednesday and Thursday pledged more than $150 million in fresh refugee assistance and created a committee to develop specific plans for relieving the crisis.
But at the same time divisions widened over how the refugee burden should be shared.
Some country representatives and humanitarian officials said the Yugoslav crisis presents the relief effort with a harsh dilemma. Keeping refugees within the former Yugoslavia risks exposing them to "new massacres and other maneuvers aimed at terrorizing the population," said Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose organization sponsored the conference.
On the other hand, she and other participants said a massive reliance on asylum for refugees outside of their native lands risks abetting the "ethnic-cleansing" campaigns hitting several Yugoslav republics such as Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"War has always created refugees, but the conflict in the former Yugoslavia seems to have a new horrifying twist," said Mrs. Ogata. "Displacement seems to be the goal, not just the result of war, with the motive clearly being ethnic relocation."
Virtually all participants in the two-day discussions agreed that keeping refugees close to home is preferable. But German officials, citing physical conditions in the former Yugoslavia and the large number of refugees already located there, said other alternatives will be necessary.
Backed by Austria and Switzerland, Germany proposed establishing a quota system to ensure a more equitable distribution of the refugees than has occurred up to now. Germany also announced plans to accept 5,000 more refugees; of the more than 400,000 refugees outside the former Yugoslavia's republics, about half have gone to Germany.
France and Britain, on the other hand, favor the creation of "safe havens," akin to those created for Iraq's Kurds, within the war-torn republics.
German politicians and the country's press have rained criticism on Gemany's European partners for not taking in more of the war's refugees. Both France and Britain have accepted just over 1,000 each, although both countries this week indicated a willingness to accept more under specific conditions.
German Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters acknowledged that Germany felt "rather alone," adding, "The British position is especially tough." Another German politician called his country's European Community partners "hard-hearted."
Attempting to deflect that criticism, French officials emphasize that more than 600,000 Yugoslavs, mostly Croatians, already live in Germany, and that the bulk of refugees have "only naturally" gone where they have family ties.
"If we were confronted with a major refugee crisis from Algeria, we would most likely face what Germany is experiencing, but I don't think you'd see Germany rushing to open its doors," says one French diplomatic source. "People go first where they have some connection."
Yet other reasons help to explain the lack of effort in France.
First, France remains particularly susceptible to the fear that refugees arriving in large numbers would become permanent residents, exacerbating high unemployment.
Also, the French government is especially eager not to take any action that risks raising the immigration issue before Sept. 20, when the French vote in a referendum on the EC's Maastricht Treaty on European political and economic union. Officials worry that mixing the specter of hundreds of thousands of refugees with a discussion of a "borderless Europe" could encourage the referendum's defeat.
Discord over the refugee problem is building even as international officials warn that the situation will deteriorate.
UN officials believe that up to a million more former Yugoslavs could flee their homes over the coming months. More of those are likely to seek refuge in other countries, some experts predict, because republics like Croatia say they have reached their limit, and because a perception is sinking in that this war is not likely to be resolved in the next few months, or perhaps even years.
"The potential for displacement in the coming months is frightening," says Ogata, "and this against the backdrop of a severe winter not so far away."
Reinforcing her concern that Europe's refugee crisis won't soon be resolved, she adds, "What is happening in the former Yugoslavia could be a chilling omen of situations evolving farther east."