Year 2008






Various organisations use different methodology
A substantial number of returnees do not register with UNHCR not to lose their social benefits in their place of displacement.

Many spontaneous return take place in isolated areas where contact with majority population are limited
Property repossession does not always result in return and one field study, cited in March 2007, claims that only one third of properties are retained in the long term

On the other hand, a return survey indicates that over 90% of returnees stay in their regained homes

Helsinki Committee, 17 January 2006, pp.2-3:
“Having investigated how it was possible to come to the unrealistic figure of million and even more returnees, we found out that in the methodology used for monitoring the process of return, very often a simple summing up of those whose property had been returned and members of their family was done. It is easily to ascertain in the field that most frequently one or two elderly members returned to the repossessed apartment or house, staying there for a limited period of time – until they sell or exchange the property. In a large number of cases, the owners use their reconstructed houses as week-end houses, and there are also many who have certificate of registration at the pre-war addresses, and live and work in another Bosnian-and-Herzegovinian municipality, or abroad. For example, the UNHCR does not have data on how many of the above-mentioned 1,099 returnees from abroad live at their addresses. In addition, there is no any institution which keeps record on how many people from Bosnia and Herzegovina left their homes for the second time during 2005. (…)

On the basis of the reports of its monitors, and on the basis of the results of the “fact-finding missions on the status of human rights” conducted in municipalities throughout BiH, on the basis of the data obtained from the Unions and Associations of Refugees and Displaced Persons, on the basis of the data obtained from the local communities, i.e. from the representatives of the governmental and non-governmental sectors, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot confirm the above-mentioned allegations (one million returnees). All collected data speak in favor of the assessment of the Union of Associations of Refugees and Displaced Persons in BiH, the President of which, Mirhunisa Zukic, claims that only one third of the total number of displaced persons and refugees returned to their homes. While assessing the process of return, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in BiH, has dealt with the results of real return, respecting the right of each individual to select the place of residence.
It is absolutely impossible to establish the number of returnees. The mission of the Helsinki Committee, for example, could not obtain the total number of the population in Višegrad. The President of the Municipal Council says that there are in between 7,500 and 8,000 people, while the Mayor gave assessment that there are in between 15,000 and 18,000 people living in Višegrad today. (…)
The Federation Ombudsmen in their reports state that no one keeps precise record of the number of exchange or sale of the real estate. However, they give alarming data according to which about 2,500 apartments were sold and about 550 contracts on exchange of the apartments were concluded only in the municipality of Zenica; In the municipality of Kupres, 288 contracts on the sale of apartments were concluded, i.e. about 90% of the total number of housing fund and about 150 contracts on the sale of property; in Mostar, the sale of apartments exceeded the figure of 3,000 housing units, etc. (…)
There is less and less interest for real return, less and less interest of citizens to find an opportunity to go to the environments where they will be the majority, or somewhere outside BiH. It leads us to horrifying fact that ethnical cleansing is in the final stage in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The non-governmental organization, the “European Movement” from Banja Luka established that only two municipalities in BiH, i.e. Tuzla and Sarajevo Center, have more than ten percent of members of other peoples. Before the war, only 20 percent of the municipalities had a structure of population in which one people was represented by more than 50 percent of the total number of population.”

CoE, 20 February 2008, para 55 and 56:
55. […] Return efforts were concentrated on property re-possession and reconstruction of housing and the accompanying infrastructure. Considerable progress in solving property issues and returns were made in 2003 and 2004, although in some parts of the country resistance to returns continued and slowed down minority returns. By the end of 2006, the property repossession process had been completed in all municipalities in BiH. The peak of minority returns was reached in 2002, when over 100,000 minority returns were recorded.

56. However, despite the high number of minority returns, in many cases the returns were not sustainable. Many of the returnees came back only to repossess and sell or exchange their property. In many cases, the families were split up, with the elderly persons returning while the rest of the family stayed in the place of displacement.

BIRN, 14 March 2007:
The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, claims 1.025 million of the 2.2 million refugees registered when the Dayton accords were signed have returned to pre-war homes.

But the real story is different from the rosy picture painted by the UNHCR figures. Problems linked to access to health care, among other matters, have compelled many of the million or so returnees to sell their homes and go back to the Federation.

A field analysis conducted by the Bosnia and Herzegovina association of refugees and displaced persons concluded that only one-third of returnees had retained their property over the long term. The rest had given up and gone.

The return survey by NADEL provides a different picture of returns:
NADEL, ETH Zurich, Power Point Presentation, August 2006:
• More than 90% of the returnees explain that their return was voluntary.
• Only 3% of former IDPs and 7% of former refugees claim that their return was initiated by authorities and did not coincide with their own plans.
• 95% have returned to their pre-war homes, only 5% have since then moved elsewhere.
• 51% of former IDPs and 41% of former refugees explain that they have received assistance after their return. Ratios are higher in rural than urban areas.
• 80% see assistance as “very important”, 20% as “fairly important”.

On the same topic, see controversial article “Bosnian returnees quietly quit regained homes”, BIRN, 31 August 2006

ICG 31 May 2000, "How Many?":
"Given the confusion in post-war Bosnia, exact numbers of returnees are difficult to calculate. Information on refugee returns is collected primarily by three different agencies: United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), Office of the High Representative's Reconstruction and Return Task Force (RRTF), and the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR). In addition, each utilises a different methodology for gathering data on returns, and each readily admits that its numbers are inaccurate. Given the difficulties of accurate statistical collection in Bosnia, none of these numbers should be taken as absolute. Rather, they should be seen as relative indicators of trends. UNHCR figures are based on the number of returnees that actually register with the UNHCR field offices. RRTF figures are based on "previous experience and the fact that substantial numbers of returnees do not register." SFOR figures are based on "reports from SFOR patrols, which cannot cover the whole state, but may be useful as a trend indication." As a result of the different methodologies, UNHCR, RTTF, and SFOR all provide differing estimates. Given the difficulties of accurate statistical collection in Bosnia, none of their numbers should be taken as precisely accurate, but rather as general indicators of trends.

ICG, 13 December 2002
“Throughout BiH, large numbers of returnees fail to register because they want to maintain their pensions or health benefits in the places from which they have returned, because they have gone home only provisionally or parttime, or because they do not trust the local authorities. The latter phenomenon is particularly marked in the eastern RS municipalities of Srspko Gorazde, Zvornik and Foca, from which UNHCR receives very little data on returns because returnees are reluctant to make their presence known.”


Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, 20 February 2008, Report by the Commissioner for human rights on Bosnia and Herzegovina
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (HCHR BH), 17 January 2006, Report on the Status of Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina
International Crisis Group (ICG), 31 May 2000, Bosnia's Refugee Logjam Breaks: Is the International Community Ready
NADEL, ETH Zurich, 24 August 2006, Durable returns to a durable state?
Office of the High Representative, Human Rights Coordination Centre (OHR/HRCC), 15 May 2000, Human Rights Quarterly Report February 2000 - May 15, 2000


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