The Age
Home eludes fearful refugees

By FARAH FAROUQUE

Monday 10 April 2000


BANDIANA - Mr Driton Beka was the first yesterday to call for a hunger strike. The father of five, whose home in northern Kosovo was destroyed by Serb bombs, says he would rather be detained in Australia than free in his homeland.

"What home?" he asks, speaking through an interpreter. "It is not safe for my family."

Mr Beka is desperate. He says he'd rather die in Australia than be repatriated - and like his compatriots who chose to remain at Bandiana he is willing to accept the conseqences.

Soon after the bus bound for Sydney Airport departed with its tiny contingent, Mr Beka and his family made their way to a nearby oval with the large group who stayed behind.

The expression on these people's faces told their story better than their new English: there was distress but there was resolution too.

Mr Arbden Ahmeti, who remained behind with his heavily pregnant wife, Vahid, stated his case passionately. "It's better for my child to be even born in a detention centre."

Mrs Qefsere Berisha clutched a medical letter from the regional health service testifying that she and her husband, Samedin, who has been diagnosed with respiratory tuberculosis, were too sick to return. The couple are among about 60 at Bandiana awaiting a High Court appeal against repatriation.

Mr Naser Bega and his wife, Nerimane, have no legal recourse. Yesterday they received a pro-forma letter from the Minister for Immigration informing them their latest application to stay had been refused.

Mr Bega was stunned. "I didn't believe this would happen," he said, holding his letter. "I don't think I'm illegal ... they know we are here, how can we be illegal people? The Australian Government brought us here from Kosovo."



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