Swiss refugee policy seen as hindrance to reconstruction in Kosovo

The head of the United Nations civil administration in Kosovo is warning that Switzerland's policy of forcibly returning refugees from Kosovo is hindering reconstruction. Berne plans to repatriate Kosovars who do not leave of their own accord in May.

This content was published on March 22, 2000 minutes

The head of the United Nations civil administration in Kosovo, Tom Koenigs, is warning that Switzerland's policy of forcibly returning refugees from Kosovo to their homes is hindering efforts to re-build the battered province. Berne is planning to repatriate Kosovars who do not leave Switzerland of their own accord by the end of May.

Koenigs told a German newspaper that both Switzerland and Germany are 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."

He pointed out that those who have not returned are still able to send back financial support to their families.

The UN refugee agency has also added its concerns about Switzerland's policy. Spokesman, Chris Janovski says, "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."

However, Roger Schneeberger, from the Swiss federal refugee office, points out that everyone returning to Kosovo receives SFr1000, which is can also be seen as an investment in the village they are returning to. He insists that "the return from Switzerland actually accelerates the reconstruction of Kosovo."

The UN's comments come as the Swiss senate proposes an inter-cantonal and federal government conference to be held in May to discuss the speedy return of Kosovar refugees. It will coincide with the end of the second phase of voluntary repatriation of people who fled Kosovo.

The senate is expected to ask the cantons to make the repatriation of families with children of school-age the priority from the beginning of August, in order to avoid children registering for a new school in Switzerland.

It is hoped that eventually some 30,000 refugees will leave Switzerland. The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, is scheduled to visit Kosovo next month to look at the situation at first-hand.

Meanwhile, the second contingent of Switzerland's peacekeeping corps, Swisscoy, is due to arrive in Kosovo today (Thursday). The unit of around 145 men and women will stay until the end of September.

The peacekeepers' main duties include logistical support, police patrols, as well as helping to provide drinking water and fuel. The first Swisscoy contingent arrived in the province last October.

swissinfo and agencies

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