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Hope on the Balkans: Reports 1997
The situation for refugees on Croatia's Dalamtian coast

From: OTVORENE-OCI_ST@ZAMIR-ZG.comlink.apc.org
Newsgroups: yugo.antiwar
Subject: Otvorene Oci Report: Refugees on th
Date: 08 Dec 1997

Otvorene Oci 
Croatian Branch of the Balkan Peace Team 
Bascinska Cesta 51C  47000 Karlovac 
Mestrovica 72A   21000 Split 
Karlovac tel/fax: +385-47-339933 
Split        tel/fax: +385-21-358859 

Split - December 8, 1997

During the war in the former Yugoslavia, there were over 60,000 refugees living on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia (Zadar to Dubrovnik). As of October, 1997 there were 9,500 refugees remaining, with the rest able to find other durable solutions such as staying in Croatia on a more permanent basis, repatriation to Bosnia-Herzegovina, or settlement in third countries.

The majority of the refugees that still remain in Dalmatia are Bosnian Croats from the Federation part of Bosnia, including towns like Bugojno, Travnik and Zenica in Central Bosnia. However there are a substantial number of Bosnian Muslims living in Dalmatia as well. Most of these refugees live in either refugee hotels or refugee camps. Various humanitarian organisations have commented that the quality of life of these refugees has deteriorated over the past five years. Also the refugees are facing a new uncertainty, for many do not how long they will be able to keep their refugee status.

This report will illustrate the situation concerning the living conditions and uncertainty about their status, of refugees living in two camps in the Split area. The Pis refugee camp in Split, is home to 140 refugees, mostly Croats from Central Bosnia. Many of the refugees living in Pis have been there since 1992. The camp is run by the construction firm Lavcevic, which receives 6.50 DM pr refugee per day for maintaining the camp and feeding the residents. The TTTS camp also run by the same firm is in the town of Stobrec south of Split. There are 250 refugees in TTTS, most of whom are Bosnian Muslims.

Living Conditions of the Camps

The International NGO Pax Christi has told Otvorene Oci that the conditions for the refugees in camps are much worse now than they were in the past. Some of the reasons given include the fact that with so many people living in a small area it is virtually impossible to maintain the residences for such a long period of time. When Otvorene Oci visited the Pis camp, we noticed that water was standing on the floor of the washrooms due to leaking sinks and toilets. The walls, ceilings and windows were also in disrepair.

In the TTTS camp the conditions are also difficult. The camp is situated near a rubbish dump, which the refugees said made the conditions unbearable in the summer. The residents have only hot water one day per week, which they must share in the communal bathrooms.

Pax Christi also said that since the price of food has risen in Croatia, the quality of food in the camps has decreased. Also because many humanitarian organisations have left Croatia, so the humanitarian aid supplementing the refugees diet has been greatly reduced.

Uncertainty of the Refugees

Possibly the largest problem for the refugees is the unclarity about their refugee status. The Croatian government Office for Displaced Persons and Refugees has started a process of de- registration of refugees. If a refugee has a Croatian identity card for purposes of work and permanent residence in Croatia, that refugee loses his or her status. For refugees in Dalmatia, not only does the refugee with a Croatian identity card lose his or her status, but the entire family does as well regardless of whether they have Croatian identity cards or not.

The situation, in Pis and other camps, is worsened by the fact that the refugees are unclear about their future and only receive partial information. For example in October, the refugees in Pis were told that 50% of the refugees living there will have to move to the TTTS camp. However, it was not made clear who in the camp would have to move, or when the move would take place. Otvorene Oci later learned that in November the owners of the camp agreed that the refugees would not have to leave Pis. However all 140 residents have been moved into two barracks, meaning as many as six people per room, and the other barracks will be used by the owners of the camp.

Otvorene Oci spoke with one Bosnian Croat family living in Pis that had lost their refugee status. The family is from Teslic (Republika Srpska) and are unable to return to their home. They said they lost their status because their son is serving in the Croatian army. Hence he has his Croatian identity documents. The family said that they themselves do not have any Croatian documents or means of income, and if they are forced to leave the camp, they will have nowhere else to go. The family also said that they had stopped receiving food from the camp kitchen since they were no longer considered refugees. They were unable to receive any of the humanitarian aid that was being delivered at the same time as our visit to the camp. The family said that when humanitarian aid is distributed, the director of the camp does not deliver any of the aid to them.

Local human rights groups say the conditions are even more difficult for Bosnian Muslim refugees. When Otvorene Oci visited the TTTS camp, most of the refugees said they did not have the necessary Croatian documents for a permanent stay in Croatia. One woman said that her children were not able to register to play at the local football club because they do not have Croatian citizenship. Her children do not want to apply to move to the United States or Canada (as many refugees in the camp are doing) because they feel they have settled here and do not want to have to move again. However their options are limited because it is still unsafe for them to return home, and they are unlikely to be able to receive permanent citizenship in Croatia.

One way of facilitating the removal of refugees that have lost their status from the camps is to close down many of the smaller camps in the area. The refugees that have lost their status will not be allowed to enter another camp. This would mean that the only people that are able to move to a different camp are those that still have refugee status. Therefore, families like the one from Teslic that do not have the necessary Croatian documentation, will encounter tremendous difficulties in finding a place to live and work in Croatia.

International organisations have expressed their concerns that refugees are becoming institutionalised in the camps become dependent and are therefore unable to move on to longer term possibilities. However in order to be able to move on from the camps there must be realistic alternatives, and this is not always the case.

Otvorene Oci, along with local and international humanitarian and human rights organisations will continue to monitor the situation, as more refugees living in Croatia are faced with the loss of their refugee status.

*Otvorene Oci* is a team of long-term international volunteers working for human rights and supporting non-violent civil society in Croatia. *Otvorene Oci is the Croatian Branch of the Balkan Peace Team* which is organised by the following NGOs: * Brethren Service, Geneva/ Bund Fuer Soziale Verteidigung, Minden/ Collectif du jumelage des societes civiles de Geneve et Pristine, Geneve/ Dutch Mennonites' working group ex-Yugoslavia/ Eirene International/ Helsinki Citizen's Assembly, Geneva/ International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alkmaar/Mouvement pour une Alternative Nonviolente, Paris/ Peace Brigades International, London/ War Resisters' International London/ Austrian Peace Service, Vienna
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