The US Should Aid Refugees From the Balkans

The first step is to activate provisions of immigration law that would increase asylum in the US

THE intractable conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina has brutalized numerous innocent civilians and precipitated a mass exodus. Earlier this month, a United Nations mission reported eyewitness accounts of such vicious acts as execution by mechanical saw and impalement. The UN mission also stated that "[all] atrocities are reported to have been done by Serbian territorial units. To the best of our knowledge, we believe the testimonials to be genuine."

About 2.25 million people have been displaced by conflict in the former Yugoslav nation. But the magnitude of the displacement does not fully communicate the intensity of the emergency. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 18,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina recently crossed a bridge between the Bosnian town of Bosanski Brod and the Croatian city of Slavonski Brod in a two-day period.

The influx apparently springs from the defeat of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Army on the Derventa front. All villages between Doboj and Derventa have been destroyed, along with many villages and small towns of the Croatian and Muslim enclave.

The prospect of even larger coerced movements prompted the Croatian authorities on July 15 to warn that newly arrived asylum seekers will be directly transported to the borders of Slovenia, Austria, and Italy. Hungary has announced that additional asylum seekers will not be permitted to enter its territory. The social and economic infrastructure of Croatia may simply be incapable of absorbing a flood of asylum seekers. Absent a durable cease-fire - which has so far proven elusive - a strategy of internal

humanitarian assistance may become impossible.

What should the United States government do from afar to address the humanitarian needs of Yugoslav refugees and displaced persons?

First, the US should immediately implement the provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act to withhold return of members of a national group if such return to a state (or part of that state) experiencing "ongoing armed conflict would pose a serious threat to ... personal safety."

The situation described above clearly meets this criterion, and Yugoslav nationals should be designated on an urgent basis for Temporary Protected Status. Upward of 20,000 persons currently in the US would immediately benefit from this measure. Enactment of Temporary Protected Status would allow them to remain in the US with dignity, and with permission to work, until it is safe to return to their homelands.

SECOND, the US attorney general should exercise at once the parole power under the act to bring a significant number of Yugoslav people into the US until such time as the president may determine that an "unforeseen emergency refugee situation" requires a formal program of refugee admissions. Such an initiative could provide a solution for thousands more Yugoslavians with ties to the US.

Urgent action is required. Sadako Ogata, the High Commissioner for Refugees, has called an international meeting in Geneva on July 29 to deal with the humanitarian issues engendered by the conflict. The US should take the lead in these discussions by announcing its decision to make these Temporary Protected Status and entry parole arrangements.

By accepting its fair share of the burden, the US would enhance international cooperation and help preserve the remedies of asylum and temporary refuge in Europe for asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia.

This tragedy requires commitment and leadership. Our government now has the means and the opportunity to make an important humanitarian contribution in this situation.

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