Originally posted at The Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club
BELGRADE — International Refugee Day is being marked today, with Serbia home to some 100,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the highest figure in Europe.
There are about 75 collective refugee centers in Serbia sheltering some 6,000 people, while the rest live in private accommodation or with family members.
The number of people with refugee status was 550,000 in 1996. With many receiving Serbian citizenship in the meantime, that figure has since fallen to about 100,000.
According to statistics from the UNHCR and the Republic Commissariat for Refugees in Serbia, there are about 206,000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo living in Serbia. [From B92 – News – Society – Serbia has most refugees in Europe]
Serb Refugees and IDPs are one of the forgotten and forsaken victim groups in the former Yugoslavia. When one mentions them in discussions about Bosnia or Kosovo, reactions range from skepticism (“They do not really exist, its Serb propaganda”) to a sort of scornful disdain centered around the idea that they somehow deserved their fate, that it is justice for what was done by Serbs to others. Sympathy is very rare, help is scarce and the future is very bleak.
Some times the denial and excuses reach truly ridiculous levels. I personally witnessed a respected independent American journalist liken the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo to “white flight”, as though the Serbs IDPs were voluntarily leaving the Kosovo ghetto for the Serbia suburbs.
The truth is the vast majority of those people – Serbs, Roma and Gorani – were forced out by ethnic violence and intimidation and still live in dreadful conditions in camps and emergency housing in Serbia. The IDPs suffer especially badly because the UNHCR cannot help them officially, as they have not crossed an international boundary (in the eyes of the UN).