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U.S. Move to Take Fewer Refugees from Bosnia Raises Few Objections

Although the American Jewish community has been pushing the Clinton administration to do more to end the unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a recent State Department decision to cut the number of refugees admitted to the United States from the former Yugoslav republic has not elicited much of a response from Jewish groups.

The administration recently decided to cut from 3,500 to 2,500 the number of refugee slots available to Bosnians and other Eastern Europeans, citing a lack of interest on the part of would-be refugees.

The majority of the Eastern European slots have been going to Bosnians, the State Department said. As of this week, only 800 refugees had taken advantage of the program.

A small group of Jewish organizational officials spent a day last week lobbying administration officials and members of Congress to do more to help Bosnia, just as Secretary of State Warren Christopher was announcing that the United States was doing all that it could for the country’s Muslim population, which has come under increasing attack from Serbian forces.

Abraham Bayer, director of international concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said the issue of the refugee slots had not come up in the course of the meetings last week.

“The Bosnians aren’t pressing for it,” he said, adding that the Bosnian people do not want to leave their country, and any efforts to encourage them to do so would further the Serbians’ “ethnic cleansing” campaign, which is aimed at driving the Muslims out.

MORE REFUGEES FROM FORMER USSR

But others say the reason more Bosnian refugees have not come here is that U.N. officials responsible for processing them are preoccupied with more urgent humanitarian concerns.

“There’s something inadequate about the current screening process” in the former Yugoslavia, said Martin Wenick, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helps resettle refugees.

Wenick said that while he is pleased the transfer of the State Department slots will allow 1,000 more refugees from the republics of the former Soviet Union to come here, he believes the slots could have been used for Bosnians.

The situation in Bosnia has worsened in recent days, with the capital, Sarajevo, under siege from Serbian forces.

The United States has been providing humanitarian assistance, has supported the concept of a war crimes tribunal and has backed sanctions against Serbia.

But the Jewish organizations, which see echoes of the Holocaust in the Serbian “ethnic cleansing” campaign, want the United States to support lifting the arms embargo in Bosnia and using military force if necessary.

Bayer said the meetings, held last Thursday, were both depressing and exhilarating. He said he was concerned about the administration’s lack of response, but was pleased that Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) agreed to talk with the group.

“The reason we came was to keep the pressure up, and I’m glad we did,” Bayer said.

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