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Safe House Budapest

The idea for the project was born in May this year among Yugoslav deserters and draft evaders who found refuge in Hungary. Since the escalation of war in Kosovo and the consequent NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, thousands of people fled to surrounding countries, Hungary being the most frequent destination for people from Serbia, especially the draft evaders and deserters.

The scale of mobilization in Serbia was without precedent. The border was sealed for all men between 18 and 60. Every call-up order was counted as delivered, no matter if the person was at home or not. The court martial was introduced for those who do not respond. All penalties were increased according to special war provisions in the Criminal law. Hundreds were reported as imprisoned and mostly five-year sentences were pronounced for draft evasion.

Nevertheless, some managed to cross the border illegaly. Some came before the border was closed. They are now on safe but very vulnerable.

According to the statement issued by Yugoslav Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights on June 24, there are no conditions for a safe return of conscripts who fled the country or otherwise avoided military duty. In fact many are reported as arrested and courtmartialed according to the war provisions even now that the state of war is abolished. The Democratic party announced that 27 000 cases in Serbia and 12 000 in Montenegro were brought to military courts, among them some prominent political activists (for more see www.demokratska.org.yu). The safe return is possible only with the adoption of the Amnesty law, for which the change of political climate in Serbia is needed as for the moment any support to conscientious objection, draft evasion or desertion is extremely dlfficult and subject to punishment.

Parallel to efforts to bring refugees back and to restore peace in the region it is equally important to give shelter and protection to all draft evaders and deserters.They must be recognized and not threatened and insecure about their stay. We ask for your urgent help in providing a temporary shelter, meeting point and information center for deserters from Yugoslavia in Budapest. As we can not predict the development of situation, we envisage this project as temporary. However, the fragile situation in Kosovo, tensions in Montenegro and possibilities of civil unrest and internal conflicts in Serbia keep us alert and concerned for the situation of men who refuse to take part in any war and violent conflicts.

We have no illusion that we can change the situation by offering a place to stay and information to few deserters. Only the European governments can help them by opening their borders and legalizing the status of deserters as they officially pledge to. This center, however, can facilitate the networking, creation of further projects and help some vulnerable individuals.

Report of activities after two months of the project (15.07 1999)

Since the beginning of the project at the end of May with limited funds available we have been able to do the following:

A large flat was rented in Budapest. During this period from two to seven people were staying in the flat constantly. Also two project coordinators were involved in councelling of deserters who for practical reasons could not stay in the flat.

We have established links to

  1. peace groups in Serbia (mostly with Women in Black and groups in its network of solidarity against the war),
  2. the office of Norvegian people's aid set up in Budapest to assist refugees in Yugoslavia and its affilitated projects
  3. foreign groups, interested in supporting deserters and conscientious objectors. It was through these contacts that most deserters with whom we were or are in contact found out about the project.

A number of Yugoslav and international peace and NGO activists on their way to and from Belgrade spent a night or two in the flat. Meetings were organized to inform them about the issue of deserters and our project.

Many more foreign journalists were interested in the project and our political views and activists involved in the project gave a number of interviews to the media. Darko and Bojan also went on a speaking tour to Germany and Austria, presenting the situation of deserters in Hungary, promoting the project and establishing contacts with groups intrerested in supporting deserters and conscientious objectors. Through contacts with peace groups in Europe inquiries were made for possibilites of supporting deserters and especially looking for more durable solutions and regulation of their status. The procedure was initated for few cases in Germany.

All these limited activies were funded thanks to the support received from Connection e.g. from Offenbach, Germany. Also Yugoslav Committe for Peace in Hamburg bought madrases for the flat. So far other funds were not received although the Mennonites, Quakers and the League of Socialist Youth of Norway expressed their wish to support the project in future.

Future perspectives of the project:

Many ideas conceived together with the project were not accomplished because of financial and other limitations. These are:

  1. Compilation of facts on the legal and practical situation of Yugoslav deserters and draft evaders in Hungary. Visits to refugee camps and conducting interviews and surveys are envisaged.
  2. Detailed report on the situation of draft evaders and deserters in Yugoslavia, persecution, evaluation, perspectives.
    As there are numerous enquiries concerning these issues both from deserters and draft evaders and from journalists, peace groups and other organizations we consider producing of these reports an urgent necessity.
  3. Publishing of 'Prigovor,' a newsletter for conscientious objection (previous five issues were published in Belgrade by Women in Black in 8000 copies) with focus on the conflict in Kosovo, NATO intervention and political repression in Serbia related to it. We believe it necessary for our readership to continue the peace education and promotion of conscientious objection through this magazine which is a unique publication in Serbian language. We see the publishing of this newsletter as a part of the effort to restore the structure and activities of the peace movement and democratic opposition in Serbia, which is a prerequisite condition for political changes.

For the continuation of the project and developing of these further activities in next three months it is urgent to provide the following:

  • computer 1000
  • phone/fax 300
  • flat accessories 200

and to cover following expenses:

  • three month rental 3000
  • three month bills and expenses 1500
  • one coordinator for the project 1500
  • reports and individual assistance to draft evaders and deserters 1500

Detailed budgets for other envisaged projects need to be developed.

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