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Faced with a host of obstacles, many Serb refugees from Croatia have decided not to return to the country. More than three years after the arrival of a post-Tudjman government to power, improvement has been so slow that many have lost their initial hopes for the new government’s policies regarding return. In most parts, the returnees have been elderly farmers whose houses were not destroyed or occupied and who receive pensions from the government. In contrast, return to urban areas hardly occurs, primarily because the refugees cannot repossess the apartments in which they lived before the war or obtain substitute housing. Also, lack of employment opportunities and, for men, fear of arbitrary arrests on war crimes charges, prevent the young and middle-aged refugees from returning to either urban or rural areas.

The Croatian government must reform its laws and policies to ensure such returnees an opportunity to repossess their homes or obtain compensation for lost property, and equal access to employment and pension benefits. Until it does so, hundreds of thousands of Croatian Serbs will be unable to realize their right to return home.

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September 2003