Camp for forgotten Bosnian refugees

TUZLA, Bosia-Hercegovina, Sep 3, 2000 -- (AFP) Ana is nine years old and has spent all her life in refugee camps, like the one the French charity Emmaus International has just set up near Tuzla, in north-eastern Bosnia.

There, Ana is waiting to return to her parents' home -- an unlikely event. She is one of the million Bosnian refugees in the country, two-thirds of them displaced to the interior of the country, complaining they have been totally forgotten by the international community.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one Bosnian out of four has still not been able to return to his pre-war home, five years after the end of the war in 1995.

"No one is helping us, all that we have is here, said Habiba, 40, Ana's mother. They share a room with a couple and their child in huts built by Emmaus near to Doboy Istoc, a Muslim village built from scratch near to Doboj, its Serbian equivalent, 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Tuzla in Bosnia's Croat-Muslim sector.

At the end of an unmetalled road, long sheds surrounding by wire fencing overlook a pretty landscape of green hills and valleys. The camp's isolation prevents friction with the neighbors, but causes water supply problems while reinforcing feelings of exclusion.

The camp was opened last December at the initiative of Franz Valli, a former Emmaus worker, who now runs 30 Emmaus communities. The camp is run by a group of young Bosnians, The International Solidarity Forum, which ran soup kitchens for several thousand people during the war.

A village in Normandy, France, sent seed potatoes to the refugees, the Dutch government sent cows and about 40 refugee families are now able to work a plot of land.

"For these people who are among the poorest of the refugees, we built a camp with a human dimension," said Valli. "We provide three meals a day, the refugees have an infirmary and a school which provides remedial lessons."

The medicines are provided by Chemists without Borders, from Montlucon in France, while a retired dentist donated his equipment. The furniture comes from collections by Emmaus, whose domestic operations are specialized in collecting second-hand furniture.

But most of the camp's 300 inhabitants, half of whom come from Republika Srpska, have lost hope, after eight years of wandering. "We try to persuade them to go back to their villages, but they fear returning to a hostile environment, without any help from anyone," said Valli.

Since May 1999, when the first women returned to the village of Kaldranj, in Republika Srpska, few improvements have been made. The houses are gutted, windows and doorways closed by plastic sheeting. There is neither water nor electricity.

"We are here twiddling our thumbs. We have no money to rebuild, we have no menfolk and there are no jobs, said Rasa, 67, who was forced out of a house in Jivinice, near Tuzla, since taken over by a Serbian family.

With tears in her eyes, she remembers the date, June 1, 1992, when the Serbs put the women on one side and men and boys on the other. A total of 136 men from the village were killed that day, she said.

Emmaus International began its work in Bosnia at the start of the war, continuing its mission after the Dayton accords of 1995.

Emmaus, with help from its French and Italian groups, has furnished more than 700 homes for Muslims, Serbs and Croats in several parts of Bosnia.

The charity was founded after World War II by former French parliamentarian Abbe Pierre, who made it his purpose in life to fight homelessness.

Original article