Metzler declares Kosovo refugee repatriation "great success"

xxxx Keystone

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said the government's repatriation programme for Kosovo refugees has been a "great success." So far, more than 26,000 refugees have returned of their own accord.

This content was published on June 14, 2000 - 16:32

Addressing parliament, Metzler said a total of 32,795 people had signed up to return to Kosovo voluntarily. Another 10,500 are obliged to return as part of the controversial forced repatriation scheme which began this month.

The refugees were granted temporay asylum in Switzerland after fleeing Kosovo during last year's conflict between Nato and Yugoslavia.

Metzler also singled out the cantons and airport police for their work in inplementing the programme.

The forced repatriation scheme, which has attracted concerns from refugee groups and human rights organisations, is phase three of the government's overall programme.

Under the scheme, any Kosovo refugee who has not voluntarily signed up to return before June 1, faces being deported.

Exceptions have been made for certain minority groups and families with children in continuing education in Switzerland, who have been granted permission to stay beyond June. Around 4,000 people are staying on under this ruling.

Metzler said that under the forced repatriation scheme, every month, 1000 passenger seats were available on stand-by for flights travelling to Kosovo from Zurich and Geneva airports.

Under the scheme, 250 people returned to Kosovo in the first two weeks of June, while 50 refugees flew back from Geneva. Metzler said the cantons have so far made use of the availability of flights, and there was no danger of failing to meet the targeted number of repatriations.

She said special flights could also be arranged to take back refugees deemed to be dangerous, or those who show the most resistance to forced repatriations.

Metzler said, however, that the number of refugees wanting to return to Kosovo overland has been low. The justice ministry arranges temporary transit papers for overland travel and gives each adult returnee SFr150 and SFr40 for each child.

swissinfo with agencies

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