BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Yugoslavia's civil war has created the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, a senior official with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said yesterday.
More than a million people have been made homeless in what used to be Yugoslavia -- almost one in 20 of the population -- and the number is growing.
Local and international aid agencies are overwhelmed, and plans are being made to set up huge tent cities.
"It is a scandal," said Judith Kumin, deputy director of the UNHCR mission. She said that the number of refugees is already 1.2 million and that the U.N. agency has asked for emergency funding of $160 million.
Until now, the Yugoslav refugee crisis has been largely hidden because most refugees have been taken in by sympathetic host families. But the number of volunteer families has dried up, and the sympathies of existing host families are fast drying up, too. Some have taken in four, six and even eight people into living quarters of 40 or 50 square meters.
After a year of this, some host families are fed up. "They are turning them back out," Ms. Kumin said. Local aid organizations say that since the fighting began in Bosnia-Herzegovina, they have been inundated with refugees and can no longer cope.
"People are just leaving their homes, setting out for safety wherever they can find it. The worst right now is inside Bosnia-Herzegovina. People are streaming by car, by bus or just on foot toward Tuzla, Bihac, wherever they can. They often have nothing with them. Local Red Cross organizations simply cannot cope with them," one aid worker said.
Another worker said that in 14 years in Africa he had not seen such utter desperation.
In the past few weeks alone, 230,000 people have fled into Croatia from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and 100,000 have fled into Serbia. Two weeks ago, the Croatian government asked the UNHCR to help them set up 20 tent cities. They have been granted one, which will be erected in the town of Bosanski Brod.
Serbia has also started negotiations to set up five tent cities for refugees. Some will be paid for by a $38 million aid package granted by the European Community.
A small tent city already exists in Slovenia for Muslim refugees fleeing the Bosnian war.