Index of "International Adoptions Reports"
Index of "Population, Refugees and Migration" ||
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U.S. Department of State
1995: International Adoption -- Former Yugoslavia
Bureau of Consular Affairs
INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA
DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION IN THIS CIRCULAR RELATING TO THE
LEGAL REQUIREMENTS OF SPECIFIC FOREIGN COUNTRIES IS PROVIDED
FOR GENERAL INFORMATION ONLY. QUESTIONS INVOLVING
INTERPRETATION OF SPECIFIC FOREIGN LAW SHOULD BE ADDRESSED TO
The Department of State shares your humanitarian concern
for the children of the former Yugoslavia and applauds your
desire to assist them in their time of need. However, at this
point in time, adopting children from this region is not a
feasible way to assist them. In particular, Bosnian children
are not adoptable. There are a number of reasons for this. In
general, adoptions are private legal matters governed by the
rules of the nation where the child resides. The laws in the
former Yugoslavia gave priority to adoptions by Yugoslavians,
and made the adoption of Yugoslavian children by foreigners
very difficult. This has not changed. All of the republics of
the former Yugoslavia permit foreigners to adopt children only
in exceptional and compelling circumstances. In practice, such
circumstances are limited to cases involving either
step-parent/step-child relationships or handicapped children.
We are not aware of any indications at present that the new
states plan to liberalize their laws on adoptions to make it
easier for foreigners to adopt.
Also, in a country which is in turmoil, it can be difficult
to determine whether children whose parents are missing are
truly orphans according to adoption and immigration
regulations. It is not uncommon in a war situation for parents
and children to become separated when parents place their
children in institutions or send them out of the area in an
effort to ensure their safety. In such instances, the children
are not orphans. Even when children have been truly orphaned
or abandoned by their parents, they are often taken in by
relatives. It is our understanding that efforts are being made
to avoid uprooting the children.
AVAILABILITY OF CHILDREN FOR ADOPTION
Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following
pattern for visa issuance to orphans:
IR-3 Immigrant Visas IR-4 Immigrant Visas
Fiscal Issued to Yugoslav Issued to Yugoslav
Year Orphans Adopted Abroad Orphans Adopted in U.S.
FY-1988 3 0
FY-1989 8 1
FY-1990 9 0
FY-1991 9 3
FY-1992 7 0
FY-1993 9 3
UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER ON REFUGEES (UNHCR)
POLICY ON EVACUATION
Evacuation of children from former Yugoslavia:
1. There continues to be well meant efforts by government and
non-government organizations to evacuate children from conflict
areas, particularly Sarajevo. UNHCR presents the following key
considerations which must be taken into account when evacuation
of children is being contemplated.
2. There are not more than 600,000 children under six years of
age in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 281,000 of whom are in besieged
cities, including 80,000 in Sarajevo. Given these numbers, it
is clear that all children cannot be evacuated. Any evacuation
which selects some children over others should be based on
clear criteria regarding compelling need and should not be done
in such a way to exacerbate ethnic tensions and conflict.
3. The primary mission of the airlifts is to bring desperately
needed food and relief into Sarajevo for the besieged
population. Furthermore, sufficient security between the city
and airport does not exist for the use of the airlift for
evacuation. In light of this security situation and in an
effort to maintain the fragile airlift operation, United
Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and UNHCR have delineated a
policy that only those persons whose medical situation is
life-threatening and who cannot be treated with the facilities
available in Sarajevo should be considered for evacuation by
the airlift. Procedural guidelines for evacuation by airlift
of such medical referral cases, including children, have been
4. Several factors indicate that evacuation is not the most
appropriate solution. In fact, evaluations of past evacuations
have shown that evacuation often is more harmful that helpful
to the children involved. These are some of the reasons:
The trauma of being separated from the family is often
greater than the trauma of remaining with the family in an
area affected by hostilities and conflict.
Initiative for evacuation often come from evacuation
organizers rather than from parents whose emotional stress
in the duress of the situation may result in decisions
which might not have been taken otherwise.
Evacuations of children are often conceived as mainly
logistical operation and may not necessarily be carried
out by groups that have a proven record in child welfare,
including assessing the best interest of the child, and
There is great risk, particularly where large numbers are
involved and there is lack of resources, that the
situation of the child will not be adequately documented
and monitored. Children may become "lost" without the
possibility of eventual return to their families.
Length of separation is usually much longer than expected
and may lead to estrangement of families and a loss of
ethnic and cultural identity.
Where displacement and ethnic relocation are goals of the
hostilities, parties might be pressured to evacuate
children for this purpose.
Unexpected political complications may prejudice the
outcome of evacuations. Whether the children are invited
into a country, and when and if they return may become
political issues, particularly where proper groundwork has
not been done.
5. No child should be moved without his/her primary
caretaker. Respect for family unity is a guiding principle,
clearly stated in the convention on the rights of the child.
Every effort must be made so that the family unit remains
intact and the child is not separated from the family.
6. Every effort should be made to trace the parents or other
close relatives of unaccompanied minors before evacuation is
considered. Unaccompanied minors are minors who are separated
from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult who
has responsibility to do so.
7. Adoption should not be considered if (a) there is hope of
successful tracing or evidence that the parents are still
alive, (b) it is against the expressed wishes of the child or
the parent, or (c) unless a reasonable time (at least two
years) was passed to allow for tracing information to be
gathered. Staying with relatives in extended family units may
be a better solution than uprooting the child completely.
8. The issue of children occupying orphanages before the
outbreak of hostilities and who can be clearly documented as
orphans deserves special attention. Thorough assessment of the
status of these children is very important and very difficult.
Recent incidents have shown that alleged orphans proved to have
parents. Many unaccompanied children have living parents or
close relatives with whom they may one day be reunited. If the
status of an alleged orphan cannot be clearly documented, there
is a risk of creating further problems of family reunification
and tracing across country borders after hostilities have ended.
9. To be clarified before any evacuation of a child:
A. Conditions of release and custody placement (identity
of the child, documentation, family history, issuance and
preservation of records);
B. Conditions of admission and care in receiving country;
C. Measures to ensure/preserve relationships and
communication with original family/original care taker;
D. Provisions for family reunion in the context of a
10. Unless the above factors are carefully considered and
implemented, UNHCR will not endorse evacuations and/or request
or advise governments or non-government organizations to
evacuate children. UNHCR, with other humanitarian agencies on
the ground, will continue to do everything possible to improve
medical and social conditions locally so that the safety and
integrity of the child is preserved within his or her family
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