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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SUN, 30 MAR 1997 22:07:18 GMT

    Refugees in Slovenia

    FREE SKY WITH A BITTER TASTE

    AIM Ljubljana, 26 March, 1997

    The Government of the Republic of Slovenia in the end of last year finally reached a decision to prolong the so-called temporary refuge for the citizens of Bosnia & Herzegovina who have sought their part of free sky in Slovenia. Slovenian authorities have indirectly done or more frequently failed to do a lot of things and contributed to departure of refugees from this state. Proximity of the war in the period 1992/93, made Slovenia the most saturated European state when speaking of refugees. About 70 thousand of them found themselves in this former Yugoslav republic which, surprisingly for many, failed to offer them the expected welcome. Expansion of refugee camps around Slovenia had become an everyday thing, and they had more and more inmates every day. Military barracks occupied until just a short time before by the Yugoslav People's Army because of which these people had been forced to leave their homes, became their main accommodation centres.

    Conditions in which they were forced to live, legal regulations referring to foreigners in Slovenia (they may be picturesquely described as closed circles) are facts that made an increasing number of Bosnian refugees search for a better and more attractive solution. Attractive in this case is a synonym for freedom of movement which was for a long time limited for inmates of Slovenian refugee camps. Permits for leaves, impossibility of regular education, meagre humanitarian aid, banned employment, etc. - these were just some, but quite sufficient reasons for 40 thousand banished Bosnians to leave Slovenia since 1995. Majority of them sought a better future in third European countries. It is interesting that majority of Slovenians were not even aware of the position of refugees in their state, because it was skilfully hidden from the public.

    In the period between 1993 and 1996, 5,500 refugees returned to B&H from Slovenia, out of which two thousand only during last year. Approximately six thousand refugees have managed to regulate their status in another manner among which the old slogan: "put your trust in God and keep your powder dry", proved to be the most efficient. Therefore, in the end of last year, a rapid reduction of the number of Bosnian citizens with the status of "temporary refuge" was registered in Slovenia, which is, by the way, a term which has no formal legal foundation, but nevertheless persisted in the Slovenian law on foreigners to this day.

    For refugees, last year was full of constant uncertainty and incessant fear of possible abolishing of the so-called temporary refuge. The fear was justified, because the Slovenian Government on several occasions announced their return to Bosnia & Herzegovina, and then in the last minute decided about another three-month postponement of the stay of refugees in Slovenia. The existing non-governmental organizations protested a few times against such treatment of refugees and continuous toying with theuir patience. This problem reached its climax in December last year which was the deadline for the majority of refugee population to prolong the status of temporary refuge in Slovenia. The Slovenian parliament was extremely slow in reaching its decision about prolonging their status until 12 December, regardless of the fact that their refugee cards had been valid only by 31 December, 1996. Panic and anxiety indeed did sneak up on the banished persons from B&H, primarily because of winter which was already showing its teeth, and majority of them had fled from regions which according to the Dayton accords had become part of the other entity. Finally, practically at a minute to twelve, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia, at one of its sessions, adopted the decision on subsequent prolongation of the status of temporary refuge until 30 April this year.

    But, this time a novelty was introduced for all B&H refugees who could prolong their status only if they submitted evidence on B&H citizenship. Evidence could be either an identity card, certificate on citizenship, birth certificate or a passport. Each of these papers had to be issued after 6 April 1992, pursuant the law of B&H on citizenship. This novelty confused many because of the very fact that their lives had been ruled by poverty for several years, and providing of any of the listed documents meant having at least 50 German marks. That is the price of the certificate on citizenship which can be obtained at the existing B&H embassy in Ljubljana.

    According to the official data, the number of refugees in Slovenia had amounted to 10,300, and after 31 December last year, this number was brought down to just 7000. This large reduction of the number of B&H refugees in Slovenia can, among other, be attributed to the short deadline and financial problems which did not permit them to procure the necessary documents. A radical conclusion would be that the Slovenian Government was to blame for all the problems of refugees, because it wanted to spite this population. However, sensible contemplation and objective information prove that Bosnian refugees do not even use most of the offered possibilities. The Office for refugees in Ljubljana, opens the door to each refugee in case of violation of their rights by the Slovenian state administration. Apart from this, according to data available to the Ombudsman, Ivo Bizjak, man who is in charge of protection of human rights in Slovenia, not a single letter of protest has been addressed to his office during the four years of the stay of Bosnian refugees, nor has any of discontented refugees knocked at his door. Therefore, it is very hard to accuse only the Slovenian authorities. And for the answer to the question what will happen to the remaining 7000 Bosnian refugees in Slovenia whose status of temporary refuge expires towards the end of April this year, we will not have to wait long.

    AIDA KURTOVIC, AIM