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Swiss authorities cancel repatriation flight to Kosovo

Another Kosovar refugee repatriation flight scheduled to leave Switzerland on Tuesday was cancelled because the airport in the Balkans was used by NATO flights, said the Swiss authorities.

This content was published on August 3, 1999 - 18:03

Another Kosovar refugee repatriation flight scheduled to leave Switzerland on Tuesday was cancelled because the airport in the Balkans was used by NATO flights, said the Swiss authorities.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Refugee Office said Switzerland cancelled the sixth repatriation flight to the Macedonian capital Skopje after NATO informed the government that the airspace was blocked because of NATO flights to the Balkans.

The Kosovar returnees were booked onto another flight which would leave Switzerland for Kosovo’s capital Pristina next week, the spokeswoman said.

On Monday, a group of 163 ethnic Albanians left Switzerland in the first direct flight to Kosovo since the end of the fighting in the war-torn Serb province.

The International Organisation for Migration, which is in charge of the operation, expressed its hopes that direct flights to Pristina would help speed up the return of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians who fled – or were forced to flee – the province because of the Serb crackdown in the region.

But IOM Director-General Brunson McKinley said on Monday that the limited capacity at Pristina airport meant that many Kosovar returnees would continue to transit through Skopje airport in the foreseeable future.

The Swiss Refugee Office expects about 3,000 Kosovar refugees to return voluntarily to their home region by the end of the year. Voluntary returnees qualify for financial aid by the Swiss government and receive basic building materials to repair their homes or build shelters.

So far, just over 600 ethnic Albanians have returned to Kosovo but there are thousands more who are still living in Switzerland and who have applied for political asylum. The federal authorities estimate that the number of those ethnic Albanian refugees will reach 60,000 by the end of the year.


From staff and wire reports.

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