In 1995 near Srebrenica in the former nation of Yugoslavia, 8,000 male Muslims were slaughtered by the Bosnian Serb military. At war’s end nearly 120,000 Bosnian refugees applied for visas to allow them to come to the United States. Processing their requests in such enormous numbers forced immigration agents to rely on the applicants filling out the forms honestly. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents continue to discover documents confirming that some of the refugees were actually members of the military and committed war crimes.
So far the number of Bosnians to be deported is near 150. A total of 300 are under investigation, but as more information surfaces the number could go as high as 600.
The 150 include mostly men who officials believe took part in the massacre at Srebrenica. Under the command of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army began an operation of ‘ethnic cleansing’ to create a nation for Serbian people only. By the end of the war in 1995 over 100,000 people had been killed, mostly civilians. The United Nations later labeled the killings in Bosnia by Serbs as genocide.
Nearly all of those under investigation were living normal lives in the United States; many had obtained citizenship. Records proving that individuals were members of the Bosnian Serb army during the conflict are considered reasonable documents for suspicion and investigation.
Other groups living in the former Yugoslavia including Croats and Muslims may receive future consideration. For now the focus is on Bosnian Serbs. However, during their investigations officials have discovered others who allegedly committed war crimes against Serbs. One Muslim man was convicted by a federal jury for lying to immigration about his involvement in a rape, two murders, and arson committed against Serbs in 1992. A Croatian woman who was employed as a prison guard is in jail awaiting extradition for torturing Serbian prisoners and forcing them to drink gasoline and blood.
Because of the enormity of visas granted after the war, U.S. officials have appealed to Bosnians around the world, asking them to provide any information they may possess regarding war crimes during the civil war. The State Department wants to ensure that Bosnians can receive fair treatment under United States law, and that their civil and human rights will be safeguarded.
As the number of investigations rise, so do the legal battles. Obtaining information sometimes requires travel to the Balkans over a period of years. Lawyers for some of those who may face deportation argue that these war crime suspects have been long time residents, some even obtaining citizenship, and should not be on trial for crimes allegedly committed two decades ago.
Of all war-time atrocities investigated by U.S. authorities none have received the attention given to the crimes in Bosnia. Although all factions in Bosnia; Serbs, Croatians, and Muslims bear some responsibility for the slaughter of civilians in the nation, the Serbs, under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic were the most brutal as they attempted an ethnic cleansing of Bosnia.
Some Bosnians, as well as U.S. officials, are angry that war criminals slipped through the cracks and have been enjoying a pleasant life in America after committing horrendous crimes against their own people.
By James Turnage