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Switzerland and Albania seal accord on repatriation of refugees

Switzerland and Albania have signed an accord on the repatriation of asylum-seekers from Albania and refugees from Kosovo. The deal was signed in Berne on Tuesday by the Albanian justice minister, Spartak Poci, and his Swiss counterpart, Ruth Metzler.

This content was published on February 29, 2000 - 08:00

Switzerland and Albania have signed an accord on the repatriation of asylum-seekers from Albania and refugees from Kosovo. The deal was signed in Berne on Tuesday by the Albanian justice minister, Spartak Poci, and his Swiss counterpart, Ruth Metzler.

The accord provides for the return to Albania of refugees whose requests for asylum have been turned down. It also allows Berne to send Kosovo Albanians home via Albania. About 50,000 people who were given temporary shelter in Switzerland during last year's conflict are due to be forcibly repatriated if they have not returned to Kosovo by the end of May.

Currently, most refugees are repatriated to Kosovo by air to Pristina, but the accord will make it possible for Kosovars to go home overland. The deal was drafted in January, during a visit to Albania by the Swiss justice minister.

Hervé Lohr, a spokesman for the Federal Refugee Office, says the accord will be of great help in repatriating Albanian asylum-seekers.

"We had people coming from Albania these last years without documents or identification, and because of this we had to commission individual expert reports on the origin of each person, to that we could prove these people were from Albania," Lohr explained. "Then we had to obtain a document from the Albanian authorities, in order to allow the the readmission of these people."

"The agreement sets the necessary legal framework for applications for these people to be readmitted into Albania, and in this sense it will really help us," Lohr added.

The Refugee Office also said the opening of a land route to Kosovo would allow Kosovo Albanians returning home to take more personal belongings with them than if they were going by air.

The deal, which still needs to be ratified by the Albanian parliament, was signed on the second day of a two-day visit to Berne by Albania's justice minister. Poci and his Swiss counterpart, Metzler, have also been discussing strengthening co-operation in the fight against organised crime. Switzerland has indicated it is willing to help train the Albanian police force.

From staff and wire reports

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