Swiss government says Kosovar repatriation depends on "external factors"

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler (pictured), says the success of the repatriation of Kosovar refugees depends on factors such as the state of the peace process. The statement follows criticism of the government's forced-repatriation policy.

This content was published on March 23, 2000 - 16:27

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler (pictured), says the success of the repatriation of Kosovar refugees depends on factors such as the state of the peace process. The statement follows criticism of the government's forced-repatriation policy.

Metzler's latest statement may seem aimed at toning-down the alleged hardline policy. At present, Berne is planning to forcibly repatriate Kosovars who do not leave Switzerland of their own accord by the end of May.

Speaking to the Senate, Metzler said external factors such as increased stability in the region due to a developed peace process would now be a factor in deciding on a repatriation timetable.

Metzler also said forced repatriations needed to be done in cooperation with the United Nations' civil administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).

On Wednesday, a top UNMIK official, Tom Koenigs, warned that Switzerland and Germany's plans to forcibly return refugees to Kosovo could hinder efforts to re-build the battered province.

Koenigs told a German newspaper that both Switzerland and Germany were trying to return refugees to Kosovo too quickly. He said the province's economy would not be able to absorb 150,000 refugees.

He told the Saarbrücker Zeitung, "A huge problem in Kosovo is unemployment, which is between 80 and 90 per cent. This is a situation in which refugees, some of whom return voluntarily, others who do not, find themselves."

The UN refugee agency has also added its concerns about Switzerland's policy. Spokesman, Chris Janovski said, "There are groups of people whose deportation or repatriation we would certainly oppose, and these are people from ethnic minorities, from mixed marriages who would be persecuted if returning to Kosovo."

But Metzler reiterated the Swiss government's plan to push ahead with the return of the 25,000 remaining refugees as quickly as possible.

In another bid to pacifiy its critics, the government has recommended the cantons grant delays for pregnant women, the sick and students.

Roger Schneeberger, from the Swiss federal refugee office defended the government's repatriation scheme. He pointed out that everyone returning to Kosovo receives SFr1000, which can also be seen as an investment in the village they are returning to. He insisted that "the return from Switzerland actually accelerates the reconstruction of Kosovo."

Metzler is scheduled to visit Kosovo next month to examine the situation first-hand.

swissinfo with agencies




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