Hungary Shifts Policy, Closes Door to Bosnians
NAGYATAD, HUNGARY — IN a reversal of its open-door policy toward Yugoslav war refugees, the Hungarian government Tuesday said it would no longer accept those fleeing through Croatia, which closed its own borders to refugees on Monday.
The moves bode ill for the 70,000 Bosnians whom the Geneva office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates have been deported in a recent wave of alleged ethnic purges by paramilitary groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Those who resist are imprisoned or killed, refugees say.
By June 12, Hungary had already accepted some 60,000 Yugoslav war refugees according to UNHCR, making it second only to Germany, with 200,000, in the number of asylum-seekers hosted. Since June 29, 3,500 Bosnians have been sent to Hungary with Serb-issued passports, Hungary's Refugee Office said.
Hungarian officials had said throughout this month's daily influx of 150 to180 Bosnians that it would not turn the refugees back.
Now, however, Hungary hopes to stave off a further influx of refugees. Senior Interior Ministry official Istvan Morvay said Tuesday that closing the border to refugees coming from or through Croatia is a response to Zagreb's unilateral decision to accept no more refugees.
The Hungarian government instead proposed Tuesday the creation of refugee zones inside Bosnia-Herzegovina.
But that, say Bosnian refugees at a Hungarian refugee camp at Nagyatad, near the Croatian border, is the very place from which they are being violently purged.
"These are forced deportations," says Sylviana Foa, a spokeswoman for UNHCR after a five-day tour of former Yugoslavia last week with UN High Commissioner Sadako Ogata.
UNHCR's Belgrade office says the most recent rash of "ethnic cleansing" started with the forced flight of 1,822 people from the mostly Muslim Bosnian village of Kozluk, some 32 miles northeast of Sarajevo, on June 26.
"There was this mass group pulling out, sorting men, women, and children according to the old d-vu method," says Hasan Hadzik, who helped organize an evacuation. Serbs and Croats engaged in such systematic roundups during World War II. Those resisting were "liquidated, butchered," he says.
Refugee Alma Sehic says that on June 28 members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard forced her and 100 other Muslims at gunpoint to board a train leaving Zvornik, a town on the Drina River which serves as the border between Bosnia and the Serb-declared state of new Yugoslavia.
"We were the last ones in Zvornik," she says. "We had five minutes to leave our houses and to go to Serbia. They killed five people two houses down from me. There were hundreds of people looking for money, gold."
Her husband Edib was killed in a prison camp after Serb militiamen took Zvornik on April 9, she says. She fled with only her clothes and her son Damir, 8. She last saw her two older sons when she sent them to nearby Bejiljina in April. Bejiljina, she says, is now surrounded by Serbs.
Judit Kumin, who heads UNHCR's Belgrade office, says that while she lacks independent corroboration for reports of ethnic cleansing, "it would be difficult for so many interviews [with refugees] to yield the same story if they weren't true."
Serbian Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic says the refugees' reports "are part of a tremendous propaganda campaign against Yugoslavia and the Serbian people." Bosnians, he says, "are taking advantage of the situation to enter Western countries in order to get a job."
Yet Mr. Jovanovic admitted that Serb as well as Croat and Muslim paramilitary groups may be "cleansing," which Belgrade "has condemned very strongly."
Muslim refugees at Nagyatad say the relative ethnic harmony in Bosnia ended abruptly after the UN recognized Bosnian independence in March.
Kozluk's Serbs were "ordinary neighbors," Hadzic says, but this call engulfed Bosnia all at once: "Brother Serbs, brother Serbs, brother Serbs!" he recalls. "This ideology! The Serbs can never be understood. It is a barbarian nation. History proves this."
Under the founder of the Yugoslav state, Josip Broz Tito, "we were all crazy about this brotherhood and unity" between nationalities, says Safura Becirovic, a Muslim from Bejiljina. "I couldn't have guessed that something like this bloody civil war would start."
Now, "it's enough to give us the weapons and let us fight," she says, holding her three-month-old daughter Melissa, who was born during the second day of the Serb attack on Bejiljina in April.
Her husband Mevludin is convinced that Bosnia's Croats and Muslims are united against the "Serb aggressor." The news that the autonomous "Community of Herzeg-Bosnia" which Croats carved out of Bosnia July 3, he says, "is wrong propaganda about Croatia. I'm sure Serbia is 99 percent behind this."
Recently widowed, Sehic says she wants to return to her town of Zvornik to take up arms. "I'd cleanse Zvornik," she says.
Other reports finger all sides in an alleged circle of purges. Bosnian Croats, Muslims, and Serbs are "cleansing each other from the areas they control," says UNHCR official Foa. "There are certainly no angels there."