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Return Assistance Programme for Yugoslavia

Serb village in ruins following post-war attack

(swissinfo.ch)

During the Kosovo crisis, about 860,000 ethnic Albanians fled the province, bringing with them accounts of massacres, atrocities and forced expulsions at the hands of Serb forces.

Switzerland helped to shelter more than 50,000 refugees from the Balkans.

In 1999, the Swiss government launched a repatriation programme, which led to the voluntary return of some 30,000 people - mainly ethnic Albanians - to Kosovo.

But as ethnic Albanians started going home, at least 220,000 Kosovo Serbs and other minority groups fled the province fearing retaliatory attacks.

By November 2001, Federal Refugee Office figures showed there were a total of 3,200 Kosovars in Switzerland, of whom 189 were Serbs.

The rest were made up of Ashkaelis, Egyptians, Goranis, Slavic Moslems, Turkish, Bosniaks and Romas.

Return Programme targets minorities

The Swiss realised that, given the uncertain political climate in Kosovo, minorities would need incentives to be persuaded to return home.

The Federal Refugee Office's Voluntary Return Programme has a budget of SFr5 million ($3.4 million), of which SFr2.3 million have been spent on rebuilding schools and houses for minorities in Kosovo, and employment initiatives such as animal distribution schemes.

Up until September 1, returnees were also given SFr2,000 on leaving Switzerland. Zoran Stojanovic was the last in the programme to receive this sum.

Returnees leaving before the end of April 2003 will receive SFr1,500. After this date, the Federal Refugee Office will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to forcibly expel Kosovo asylum seekers from Switzerland or to allow them to stay.

Martin Wende from the Swiss liaison office in Pristina told swissinfo: "Serbs will not be forced to leave if the security situation is perceived to be unstable in their place of origin."

UN insists on multi-ethnic society

Last month the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, stressed the need for a strong commitment by the new Kosovo government to support a multi-ethnic society.

This included reconciliation between majority ethnic Albanians and minorities, and the return of minorities presently outside of the province to their former homes.

The UN has stepped up its efforts to repatriate these minorities in time for Kosovo's next elections on November 17.

The Yugoslav government has also made it clear that it expects progress on returning displaced Serbs, many of whom now live in cramped and unsanitary conditions in temporary camps and disused public buildings inside Serbia.

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

Key facts

Switzerland has helped to shelter more than 50,000 refugees from the Balkans
In 1999 some 30,000 people - mostly ethnic Albanians - were returned to Kosovo
The Federal Refugee Office has a SFr5 million budget for its current return programme for Kosovar minorities
After April 2003, minorities who do not take advantage of the scheme will be forced to return, or given residency in Switzerland

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