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Two-thirds of Kosovo refugees in Switzerland repatriated

Kosovars returning home from Switzerland under a voluntary repatriation programme. Keystone / Meinrad Schade

The refugee authorities say Switzerland's Kosovo repatriation programme is a success. Two thirds of the estimated 53,000 people who fled to Switzerland had left the country by the end of August.

The director of the Federal Refugee Office, Jean-Daniel Gerber, told a news conference in Berne on Friday that more than 31,000 Kosovo refugees and asylum seekers had returned home under the voluntary repatriation programme run by the Swiss government.

A further 4,000 people have been forcibly repatriated. The programme, which has cost an estimated SFr112 million ($63 million), is continuing, although some of the 18,000 Kosovars still in Switzerland have had their permits extended.

The non-governmental Refugee Council agreed that the voluntary repatriation programme had gone well, but criticised the government for forcibly deporting Kosovars.

“We have heard shocking reports of the way the forcible repatriations were carried out,” spokesman Jürg Schertenleib told swissinfo.

The Federal Refugee Office defended its policy, saying that Switzerland had taken in more Kosovars than any other country relative to its population. “This is the highest ratio of all countries in western Europe,” said Gerber. “This figure even exceeds that of refugees taken in by Switzerland during the Second World War.”

Gerber told swissinfo that this effort had not been recognised by other countries or the international community.

Latest figures show that the number of asylum requests, mainly from the Yugoslav Federation, rose slightly in August. But it is still tiny compared to the number of people leaving Switzerland.

The authorities are in the process of trying to tighten up the country’s asylum laws. The Federal Refugee Office said it was confident parliament would approve it proposal for stricter measures to penalise asylum-seekers who do not cooperate with the authorities. Under the proposal, these people would be banned from working and social insurance would be restricted.

Gerber also launched a strong appeal against a people’s initiative aimed at limiting the number of foreigners in Switzerland. He said he objected to the narrow-minded and self-centred spirit of the initiative, which goes to a nationwide vote on 24 September.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR