Germany: UNHCR urges residency for Bosnians

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has urged Germany's constituent provinces, or Länder, to grant the most vulnerable Bosnian refugees permanent resident status. The call comes after a survey of some 37,000 Bosnians remaining on German soil found that nearly half of them experienced particularly traumatic ordeals during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, which left them psychologically scarred for life. The group, estimated by the German refugee rights organisation Pro Asyl at around 15,000, includes former concentration camp prisoners, victims of particularly cruel abuse, and persons who went through an intensely traumatic experience and their families. It also comprises vulnerable social cases who would be helpless if they went back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

UNHCR on Monday appealed to the Länder, at whose discretion decisions on sending refugees back are taken, to reverse their current policy of sending all Bosnians back. The policy stems from the 1996 joint decision by the interior ministers of the Länder to send all Bosnian refugees back. UNHCR welcomed a statement on Monday by Germany's federal interior minister who said the most vulnerable should be allowed to stay. But UNHCR noted that the ultimate decision rests with the Länder.

During the war in Bosnia, Germany gave temporary refuge to 350,000 Bosnians - the largest number of Bosnian refugees hosted by a single country. Since then, most of the refugees have gone back or have been resettled in other countries. UNHCR estimates that over the next couple of years, nearly half of the 37,000 Bosnians remaining in Germany will either go back or will be resettled in third countries, primarily the United States. UNHCR believes the remainder should be allowed to stay in Germany.

The United States has offered permanent refuge to 140,000 Bosnians. Some European countries have also allowed substantial numbers of Bosnian refugees to stay. Austria has accepted 66,000, Sweden 53,000 and Denmark 27,000.