Berlin deports Bosnians, among them Roma

10 September 1998

The German press reported on July 10 and 11 that Berlin authorities had deported 74 Bosnians on July 9 and 10, violating previous promises that group deportations of Bosnian refugees would not take place.

Police put 36 Bosnians on July 9 and 38 Bosnians on July 10 in planes bound for Sarajevo. The German non-governmental organisation Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker stated that there were Roma among the deportees. According to Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, most of those deported come from the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska; approximately 70% of Bosnians in Germany are from areas currently in that entity. Of the 18,000-odd Bosnian refugees remaining in Berlin, between six and ten thousand are Roma, many from Republika Srpska. Roma from eastern Bosnia are split between Orthodox and Muslim communities - both of which experienced persecution and expulsion during the war. Genocidal attacks on Roma were documented in several towns and villages in Bosnia, especially on Muslim Romani communities in and around the northeast town of Zvornik (see Roma Rights, Autumn 1996). The two groups of Bosnians deported from Berlin on July 9 and 10 were predominantly Muslim.

Berlin began deporting individual Bosnians from Republika Srpska in November 1997, when an administrative court authorised the deportation from Germany of three Bosnian Roma. In its ruling, the court acknowledged that the Roma could not return to Republika Srpska. Nonetheless, according to press accounts, the court reasoned that the refugees could successfully return to the other Bosnian entity - the Muslim-Croat Federation - without what it termed "danger to life or limb" (See Roma Rights, Winter 1998).

This summer, police raids reportedly began on the night of July 4, when approximately 70 persons were identified in asylum seekers' hostels and private flats and taken into deportation detention. While in detention, individuals were reviewed to determine whether it was possible to deport them. Persons considered unfit for deportation were released. Police raids continued until July 10.

According to the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, detainees included trau-matised persons who had lived through concentration camps, a person suffering from severe epilepsy and a single mother whose daughter was not detained with her. Detainees also included persons who had been assured that they would not be sent back by force because they had enrolled in a program which envisions the return of whole communities together.

Berlin Interior Minister J?ouml;rg Sch?ouml;n-bohm, speaking on a Berlin radio program about the police activities, stated, "Now it is very important that we significantly reduce the number of refugees." He commented that the voluntary return of refugees had been proceeding, to date, "too hesitantly". According to official sources in Bonn, from the beginning of 1998 until July 11, 53,900 Bosnians had returned to Bosnia, an additional 1056 had been deported to Bosnia, and 8445 had left Germany to go to other countries. Approximately 190,000 of the 350,000 Bosnian refugees who had been in Germany have left the country since a September 1996 conference of German state interior ministers decided that states should undertake measures aimed at making them leave. German authorities have put various amounts of pressure on Bosnians to leave Germany, with the states of Berlin and Bavaria being the most persistent. There has been at least one reported case of suicide among refugees in Berlin. On August 4, Der Tagesspiegel reported that around 200 Roma had demonstrated in front of the Ged?auml;chtnis Church in the Charlottenburg area of Berlin against the deportations.

On the same day as the first planeload of Bosnian deportees arrived in Sarajevo from Berlin, it was announced that the international community had frozen funding intended to assist their integration. The Sarajevo-based Radio Zid reported on July 9 that the European Union, of which Germany is a member, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had put a lid on the spending of millions of dollars of international aid earmarked for the rebuilding of the Sarajevo canton, following the failure by local authorities to implement the so-called Sarajevo Declaration. This document, signed on February 3, 1998 by international and Bosnian officials, is an agreement on the status of Sarajevo as an open and multi-ethnic city, with a set of regulations on the return of at least 20,000 members of ethnic minorities to the canton by the end of 1998.

According to an article in the wire service Alternativna informativna mreža (AIM) of May 9, Roma from the Sarajevo Romani settlement of Gorica view the arrival of Roma refugees from West European countries with concern, because Roma are not mentioned in the Sarajevo Declaration. The text of the declaration refers to 'minority groups', but specifically mentions only Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Jews and Bosnian Serbs.

The AIM also reported that Roma from Gorica would be moved to another area of the city. The government of the Sarajevo canton allegedly wanted to turn Gorica into an exclusive locality with residences for foreign ambassadors in Bosnia. The government's plan envisioned that the Romani population would be moved to Buća Potok and Pionirska Dolina, parts of Sarajevo which were frontlines between the conflicting sides during the Bosnian war, and which have not yet been cleared of landmines, three years into the Dayton Peace Agreement. There are only ten Romani families left out of the 105 families which lived in Gorica before the war. According to the AIM article, the Roma are not willing to leave their current neighbourhood, emphasizing that the settlement is more than one hundred years old and is the oldest Romani neighbourhood in Sarajevo. After the Association of Sarajevo Roma and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina filed complaints with the mayor of the city, the plan was reportedly suspended, but the future of the Gorica Roma remains uncertain.

(Alternativna informativna mreža, ERRC, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zei-tung, Frankfurter Rund-schau, Gesell-schaft für bedrohte Völker, Radio Zid, Tagesspiegel)

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