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Refugees Stream into Serbia, Too

January 20, 1993

LJUBOVIJA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Sonja Katic crossed the Drina River bridge into Serbia, laid down the bundle of her belongings, sat on a stone and wept.

″What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?″ she cried as her daughter Maja, 10, and son Mirko, 6, looked on, puzzled.

The Katic family has joined about 600,000 refugees who have fled Croatia or Bosnia for Serbia since Yugoslavia’s civil war started in summer 1991.

The international condemnation of Serb offensives in Croatia and Bosnia has focused attention on the more than 1 million Muslim and Croat refugees created in the largest exodus in Europe since World War II. Their stories have been widely publicized as they flee into Croatia or Western Europe.

The refugees in Serbia feel the world ignores them and lacks empathy for their plight.

″What are we, animals?″ Katic said. ″Serbs in Bosnia are suffering terribly, too, like Muslims and Croats.″

Katic fled Kravica, an eastern Bosnian village. Her husband was drafted to fight the Muslims, Katic said, and she doesn’t know what has become of him.

Although Serbia has taken more than a quarter of all the refugees, it gets only about 15 percent of the total aid.

International organizations such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees distribute their aid to former Yugoslav republics proportionally, according to the number of refugees.

But considerable aid comes through country-to-country or people-to-people donations, and there is little desire in the outside world to help Serbs.

″The Serbs are being blamed for all the evils of the war,″ said Dobrica Vulovic, Serbian refugee commissioner.

The European Community, however, approved a $10 million program Tuesday to aid refugees in Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics remaining in Yugoslavia.

Bosnian Serbs, who have captured about 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, have been widely blamed for atrocities and the forced expulsion of Muslims and Croats from their homes.

But Serbs, who represented about a third of Bosnia’s prewar population, also are being driven from their homes by ethnic rivals.

Others are fleeing ″liberated″ Serbian areas in Bosnia because of economic hardship and repression imposed by warlords.

Serb refugees interviewed in Ljubovija, just across the Drina River boundary with Bosnia, said that it had taken them days of fear, bribes and bureaucracy to escape Muslim and Croat-held regions of Bosnia.

″It was hell,″ said Zorica Popovic, who escaped Muslim-held Zenica in central Bosnia. ″They separated men from women and children. And then they demanded money or gold before dumping us on the front line.″

She said she didn’t know what had happened to the men.

In Serbia, about 95 percent of the refugees are lodged with families in private homes rather than in large camps, said UNHCR spokeswoman Lyndall Sachs.

″What is even more impressive is the fact that the people of lower economic scale are those mostly providing shelter for the refugees,″ she said in Belgrade.

U.N. assistance, mostly aid parcels, blankets and food, is turned over to the Red Cross for distribution. Serbia’s government provides food packets.

Of 600,000 refugees registered in Serbia, 62 percent are women and children younger than 14. There also are believed to be 50,000 to 80,000 unregistered refugees, mostly Muslims or men of military age.

Refugees are arriving at a rate of between 500 and 2,000 a day. Serbia is bracing for some 200,000 arrivals this winter.

″With the sanctions, sheltering new refugees will be a huge, almost impossible task for us,″ said Belgrade Mayor Slobodanka Gruden.

As the U.N. sanctions imposed May 30 drive more people out of work, refugees will suffer too, she said. If the United Nations does not allow emergency heating oil imports, children and elderly could start dying of cold.

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