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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK

World: Europe

Refugees: Lessons from Bosnia

More than 750,000 Bosnian refugees have still not returned home

By Angus Roxburgh in Brussels

Western aid organisations, seeking a long-term answer to the refugee crisis caused by the war in Kosovo, have been looking to neighbouring Bosnia Hercegovina for possible solutions.

Kosovo: Special Report
It is the intention of the international community that all displaced people from the Bosnian war should eventually be able to return to their original towns and villages.

But very few have so far done so. Almost four years after the end of the war, only 80,000 people have gone back to areas from which they were ethnically cleansed. Ten times that number remain displaced.

International aid workers have found it hard to persuade Bosnians to return to areas where they would be in a minority.

Ethnic divide

The more time that passes, the less likely it is that people will wish to go back to live in their original homes on the other side of the ethnic divide. Temporary solutions become permanent.

[ image: Need to hurry home]
Need to hurry home
In some ways, the return of Albanian refugees to their homes in Kosovo will be easier. Since about 90% of the population was Albanian in the first place, they will not be in a minority in a Serb-dominated region.

But Western officials nevertheless believe it will be essential to get them home as quickly as possible when the fighting ends.

I understand Nato is considering a plan to return 700,000 Albanians to their homes in just one month, as soon as there is peace.

Keeping communities together

The plan envisages refugees taking their tents with them from camps in Macedonia or Albania and setting them up in their home villages. In this way, it would be possible to keep communities intact, enable farm work to be done and re-building to commence.

Officials in charge of Bosnian refugee returns say it is imperative to get the Kosovo Albanians home before winter.

The alternative would be to see more and more refugees drifting abroad, thereby consolidating the programme of ethnic cleansing that has taken place in the Serbian province.

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