31 December 2013 |

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013


There were around 103,000 IDPs in Bosnia and Herzegovina as of the end of 2013, according to government figures. During the 1992 to 1995 war, more than a million people were displaced by inter-ethnic violence, human rights violations and armed conflict between Serb, Croatian and Bosnian armed forces and militias. Preliminary 2013 census results showed the overall population was around 3.8 million, down from the 4.4 million recorded in 1991 as a result of the conflict.

Access to adequate housing remains a major concern for IDPs. The vast majority live in private accommodation, but around 8,500 are still based in collective centres. Many have been unable to improve their housing because of lack of income. Living conditions were particularly dire for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE) IDPs who mainly live in informal settlements with insecure tenure. The Council of Europe Development Bank approved a €60 million ($83 million) loan in January 2013 to build social housing for collective centre residents. By September some had been moved to their new dwellings in Splavište and Goražde. Other projects were approved as part of a regional housing programme for IDPs.

Internally displaced children continue to be educated through the practice of “two schools under one roof”. Originally conceived to allow the children of returnees to study according to their nationality, in over two decades the policy had resulted in the de facto segregation of ethnic groups, particularly Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks. The education minister has presented a two-year plan to end the practice, while the Cantonal Court overruled a 2012 Mostar court decision to the same effect.

Survivors of wartime sexual violence still have highly limited access to justice, reparations or psychosocial assistance. A new state programme of psychological support for victims of the conflict was put in place during 2013, but becoming a beneficiary is difficult. Internally displaced women who are head of their households have increasingly become victims of human trafficking. Mechanisms are needed to identify and refer trafficking victims and increase equality, with a focus on the education, health and employment of internally displaced women.

More than 580,000 IDPs have returned to their areas of origin since 1995, but UNHCR counted only 151 returns in 2013, around half as many as the previous year. Many IDPs prefer to stay in areas where they are part of an ethnic majority for fear of discrimination and reprisals. As the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) highlighted during the year, other obstacles to return include a lack of jobs and harmonised legislation on social benefits, limited infrastructure and electricity supplies, the presence of landmines, poor access to health care and destroyed housing.

In an effort to ensure the equal treatment of returned IDPs, the cantonal government of Sarajevo adopted legislation in April that enables those leaving the canton for their pre-war homes to retain the health care and social benefits they received during their displacement. Herceg-Nova, a nationalist Croat area of Bosnia, also began to address the needs of returnees in the canton with the help of a number of UN agencies. Its project aims to improve social services, prevent discrimination, eliminate the risk posed by mines and ensure equal access to employment opportunities.

As of the end of 2013, several draft laws and policies that would benefit IDPs had still to be adopted. These included an amendment to the Law on Refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Displaced Persons and Returnees, the Strategy on Transitional Justice and a draft law on the rights of torture and war victims. There are still no specific state initiatives for displaced RAEs, who suffer discrimination both as IDPs and as a minority group.

Only a few international organisations still specifically support IDPs. These include UNHCR, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and UNDP. The EU has also played a major role in influencing government policy in favour of IDPs through Bosnia’s candidacy to join the union, and the Council of Europe has advocated on durable solutions through its various agencies.