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Switzerland says Balkan refugee situation unacceptable

The Swiss Federal Refugee Office says the current refugee situation in the Balkans is “unacceptable” and remains a key policy priority for the government. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in turn proposed a job-creation programme for the region.

This content was published on December 8, 1999 - 17:09

The Swiss Federal Refugee Office says the current refugee situation in the Balkans is “unacceptable” and remains a key policy priority for the government. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in turn proposed a job-creation programme for the region.

“The international community cannot tolerate the current refugee situation in the Balkans,” refugee office director Jean-Daniel Gerber told a meeting in Geneva, adding that the international community should develop a joint policy on ethnic minorities.

He said the return of refugees belonging to ethnic minorities remained a main priority for Switzerland, where a number of organisations have expressed their concern about continued violence in the Serb province of Kosovo.

Gerber told the Geneva meeting that 200,000 people, mostly Serbs and Roma, had fled the province because of hostilities by the ethnic Albanian majority there.

Just under 19,000 Kosovo refugees have already returned, or are about to return, from Switzerland to their home region, where they can rebuild their lives with financial and material aid from the Swiss government. There are still 60,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo in Switzerland, according to the authorities.

In Geneva, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, called for the setting up of a “jobs for coexistence” programme, that would help create equal job opportunities for all ethnic groups.

Ogata proposed that the programme be launched in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and, perhaps, also in Kosovo. They are regions that have seen tens of thousands of deaths in several years of armed conflict fuelled by racial hatred and post-Communist power politics.

She said the key responsibility for the programme would rest with local authorities, but added that private business would need to get involved as well.

From staff and wire reports.

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