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Swiss justice minister in Rome for talks on Kosovo repatriation

Switzerland’s Justice and Police Minister Ruth Metzler travelled to Rome on Tuesday for high-level talks focussing on the controversial issue of repatriating Kosovar refugees through Italian territory.

This content was published on July 27, 1999 - 10:19

Switzerland’s Justice and Police Minister Ruth Metzler travelled to Rome on Tuesday for high-level talks focussing on the controversial issue of repatriating Kosovar refugees through Italian territory.

The Italian authorities are concerned that ethnic Albanian returnees could try to stay in Italy while travelling home on a route leading from Switzerland through Italy.

There has been speculation that Italy may only agree to overland repatriation under police escort – a move which would likely see refugee buses being guarded by police from the Swiss-Italian border all the way southward to the Italian port of Brindisi. The returnees would then cross the Adriatic to Albania and travel on to neighbouring Kosovo.

During her talks in Rome, Metzler was also expected to remind the Italian government of its pledge to take back all Kosovar refugees who entered Switzerland illegally.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi assured the Swiss government a few weeks ago that Italy would cooperate with the Swiss authorities and take back illegal Kosovar immigrants, in line with a pledge made over a year ago.

However, Ciampi’s statement appears to have had little impact on the situation on Switzerland’s southern border with Italy, where attempts to cross into Switzerland illegally have been continuing in the past weeks.

The issue has somewhat strained relations between the two countries as some groups in Switzerland accuse Rome of not cracking down hard enough on smugglers leading Kosovar refugees across Italy to the Swiss border.

The Federal Refugee Office said it hoped Metzler’s talks might help clarify the situation about the repatriation agreement with Italy.

“We already have such agreements with France, Germany and Austria. The only country that has not signed the agreement yet is Italy,” said a spokeswoman for the office. “We hope that Metzler will push the discussion further in order to achieve some concrete results.”

The talks in Rome came as a third repatriation flight carrying voluntary Kosovar returnees left Switzerland for the Balkans, where they are given financial and material aid by the Swiss authorities to help them rebuild their lives in the war-shattered Serbian province.

The Swiss authorities expect that about 3,000 Kosovars will want to return to their home region by the end of the year. However, thousands more are still living in refugee camps throughout Switzerland.

Along with Germany, Switzerland has taken in the highest number of refugees fleeing the Kosovo conflict.

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss, who paid a one-day visit to Kosovo on Monday to assess Swiss aid and reconstruction projects, said it was Switzerland’s “moral obligation” to help the refugees.

“We must help them so that they can begin to lead a normal life again,” Deiss said Monday, even though he conceded that this would likely take some time.


From staff and wire reports.

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