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National conference to discuss Kosovo repatriation

The Swiss federal authorities and cantonal representatives are meeting on Thursday for a national conference aimed at developing a joint strategy for the repatriation of refugees from Kosovo who were given temporary asylum last year.

The head of the Federal Refugee Office, Jean-Daniel Gerber, said he was optimistic an agreement would be reached. He said most cantons had already approved the proposals put forward by the federal authorities.

Gerber said differences remained on three issues: the repatriation of people from minorities in Kosovo (Serbs, Gypsies and Kosovars of Turkish origin), the question of training programmes for young people, and how the cost of repatriation should be shared between the cantons and the federation.

During the war over Kosovo last year, Switzerland offered temporary shelter to about 50,000 from Kosovo. About 30,000 are estimated to have returned already, receiving financial help under a programme of voluntary repatriations funded by the Swiss government.

The authorities want to start forcibly removing the remaining 20,000 from June, despite appeals from the United Nations administration in Kosovo, and Swiss aid organisations, to limit forced repatriations as far as possible.

Gerber said Switzerland understood the problems faced by the authorities in the province, but the repatriation programme had to go ahead regardless.

swissinfo with agencies

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