In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), out of an estimated 2.2 million persons who were forcibly displaced during the 1992-1995 war, more than one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have exercised their right to return to their place of origin since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995. Nearly half of the returns were “minority returnees" who returned to the territory controlled by one of the other ethnic groups. Thanks to the fulfillment of minority returns, one can conclude that the effect of ethnic cleansing which was used as the strategy in pursuit of ethnically purified state-building during the war has been to certain extent reversed, and BiH has succeeded in regaining multiethnic character of society to that extent.
However, the actual return to place of origin, particularly the number of minority return may be considerably less than statistical number. According to the briefing note of UNHCR in 2007, many returnees did not stay in their place of return permanently, due primarily to lack of economic opportunities there. Those who have returned permanently tend to be older and in rural areas where they depend upon agriculture. Many young IDPs have remained in their place of displacement seeking better socio-economic opportunities that are scarcer in their communities of origin. They are remaining in and moving to areas where they can live amongst their own ethnic group. These statements coincide with other research findings including those of mine.
Recognizing the above trend as a whole, this paper argues based on the field research results that more attention should be paid to two problems. One is that minority return has not ended yet in some areas, although major returns already ended until the middle of 2000's. For example, there are thousands of Serb refugees from Mostar who currently live in Nevesinje in Republika of Srpska. They have been applying for reconstruction of their destroyed property for many years. Almost all of these IDPs actually wish to return to their place of origin. They truly seek support to reconstruct houses to live, not to sell or use as a second home. According to my analysis, main reason lies in better living conditions that are provided in Mostar, the capital town of Herzegovina region.
Another problem is that there are minority people who did not leave their place of origin during the war or who returned relatively early after the war. So far they have been trying hard at life to survive. But their continued existence is now in danger, because of lasting discrimination against minorities. This paper illustrated their situation by showing survey results in Banja Luka, the capital city of Republika Srpska. It argues that the international society should pay more attention to their problems, if they incline to reverse ethnic cleansing and rebuild a peaceful multiethnic society in BiH. Because it is the existence of these minority people that have been putting the brakes on the growing trend of ethnic purifying of the country after the war.