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Metzler signs refugee repatriation convention

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler (pictured), has signed an agreement with the UN administration in Kosovo on the return of refugees from Switzerland. The signing comes during a trip aimed at ensuring repatriation conditions are adequate.

The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler (pictured), has signed an agreement with the United Nations administration in Kosovo on the return of refugees from Switzerland. The deal is designed to make it safer for the Kosovars to go back home, but it also facilitates forced repatriations.

The signing came on the second day of an official three-day visit to the Yugoslav province. The aim of Metzler's trip is primarily to ensure conditions are adequate for the return of about 40,000 refugees that were taken in by the Swiss last year, following Nato's bombardment of Yugoslavia. The deadline for their voluntary repatriation is the end of May, after which the government says it will return people by force.

Earlier on Thursday, the justice minister held talks with a group of refugees who chose to return home this year. During the meeting, Metzler called on Kosovars still in Switzerland to return home of their own free will, saying the overall situation in the province had improved over the last six months.

Switzerland's repatriation policy has come under fire from a number of sides. The Swiss Red Cross wants the deadline to be extended because of the continued threat posed by unexploded mines. The United Nations' administrator in Kosovo has expressed concern about a mass return of people to a region in which unemployment currently stands at eighty per cent.

Before meeting the refugees, Metzler met liaison officers for the Swiss development agency who told her the social and medical structures in the province were of an acceptable standard. Later, she held talks with representatives of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The justice minister also fitted in a morale-boosting visit to Swiss peacekeeping troops in Kosovo making up the Swisscoy contingent.

swissinfo and agencies




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