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Waiting, Hoping: Border Vigil Illustrates Refugees’ Plight

November 21, 1992

MOJSTRANA, Slovenia (AP) _ As night fell, 181 Bosnian refugees waited as they had each day for almost a week to find out if Britain would give them a new start.

They’d been promised an answer on Monday, and the scene was tense in the dimly lit lobby of the Triglav hotel. The silence and incessant rain along the mountainous border with Austria seemed to be a bad omen.

Finally, word came that London would accept only six. For the others, there were only questions: Now where to? Home? What home? Back to the refugee camps?

The Bosnians’ vigil, which ended late Tuesday with temporary asylum in Austria for those not allowed into Britain, was just one example of the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war in what was once Yugoslavia who live in overcrowded refugee centers in Croatia and Slovenia.

Europe has already taken about 600,000 refugees, and resistance to them is growing in many countries. Croatia, with a native population of less than five million, has taken in 750,000 Bosnians. Slovenia, with only two million people, has tens of thousands more.

Now, Croatia says it can take refugees clamoring at its Bosnian border only if they are able to continue on to Western Europe. But there are few takers.

″With the best will in the world, we simply cannot take everyone who, for understandable reasons, wants to leave Yugoslavia,″ said British Prime Minister John Major.

Countries like Austria, which has taken 60,000 Bosnian refugees, and Germany, with 235,000, say they have reached the limit. Governments are under intense domestic pressure to cut the flow of immigrants.

Others, such as Italy and some Scandinavian countries, prefer to help refugees in their home countries rather than take them in. Some, such as Britain, have new visa requirements.

The 181 Bosnians who had waited in Mojstrana had been offered aid by the Leeds, England-based European Refugee Trust. They waited for nearly a week for their British visas after spending three days and two nights on crowded buses or camped in the border post restaurant. Then, using private donations, the women and 60 children were taken to hotels.

On Molday, when word on visas finally was expected from Britain, the men joined their families at the hotel to wait.

In a corner, a 14-year-old orphan cupped her hands over her face, overwhelmed by the memory of her mother’s murder in Bosnia, the responsibility of looking after two younger siblings and an ailing older brother in need of kidney dialysis.

That Britian might refuse them seemed incomprehensible.

But British Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke said the troubles of Mujagic’s family and their companions ″are indistinguishable from the plight of about two million people displaced in former Yugoslavia.″

A British home office spokesman criticized the Leeds charity for organizing the convoy despite being told the Bosnians would need visas.

Meanwhile, Croatian officials and international aid workers in the republic are increasingly desperate over the plight of the refugees.

Adalbert Rebic, head of the Croatian Bureau for Refugees, said 800 to 1,200 more arrive daily, but no one wants them.

″Once people can no longer get out, and no Western European country is prepared to accept them, you’re condemning them to death,″ said Fronnie Bisma, a spokeswoman for Refugee Work Netherlands in Amsterdam.

Prisoner releases from Serb detention camps in Bosnia have been delayed because not enough are accepted by third countries.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says at least 6,000 inmates remain in detention camps, ready to leave if given haven. ICRC spokeswoman Cristina Fedele said that is becoming ″extremely urgent″ as winter approaches.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says countries have been slow to provide transport and set up temporary homes for 3,700 they have promised to take.

″That’s not doing us a lot of good for our goal to get these people out as soon as possible,″ said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. agency.

Most refugees say they would like to go home, if they had homes to return to.

″Even this is a camp for me, only without a wire, because I’m getting food here and don’t work,″ said Mehmed Derviskadic, one of 755 former prisoners released from the Serb-run Manjaca camp, who was waiting at a transit center in Karlovac, Croatia.

″Everything is closed to us,″ said a Sarajevo economist who declined to be identified as he sat in Mojstrana.

Given the chance to talk to the British visa authorities, he said he would ask one question: ″Where would you live if you had no home?″

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