Returning to a safe area? The importance of burial for return to Srebrenica

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Repatriation and burial were intimately linked in the minds of survivors from Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. A United Nations 'Safe Area', Srebrenica was attacked in 1995 by the Serb military who, in the process, displaced tens of thousands of people and caused the disappearance of over 7,000 men. Five years after the assault, survivors considered returning to their prewar homes. Simultaneously, they lobbied the government to bury the bodies of the people massacred in Srebrenica. Qualitative interviews with 37 displaced people along with 30 people working for local, national, and international organizations performed over the summer of 2000 suggest that the repatriation and burial were fundamentally connected. Power relations with the Serbs, uncertainty over the implementation of land laws, and the lack of security framed both issues. This study argues that burial was perceived by those interviewed to promote repatriation; it was a way of obtaining information about conditions in the homeland and a test of their rights and citizenship. Ultimately, burial strengthens ties to the homeland by creating both physical and symbolic reasons to return. The results suggest more generally the need for the international community to coordinate efforts aimed at identification, burial and repatriation after human rights abuses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)186-201
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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