The Age
Kosovars to be deported 'in days'


Tuesday 11 April 2000

CANBERRA/BANDIANA - The 182 Kosovo refugees who have refused to leave Australia would be deported over the next few days - by force, if necessary - federal Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said yesterday.

Mr Ruddock made the statement after the High Court rejected an application by a group of the remaining Kosovars for an injunction preventing their deportation.

"Removal could involve having to supervise people to aircraft and supervising them on the way home," Mr Ruddock said.

If Kosovars would not leave voluntarily, their removal would be overseen by authorities, he said. "We have what we call supervised departures and I'll be endeavoring to put in place supervised departures."

Mr Ruddock said the court ruling confirmed the Government's authority to remove the Kosovars.

For the moment Kosovars at the Bandiana army base, in northern Victoria, will be kept in detention there and will not be taken to more secure camps.

But if there was any breach or escape attempts, people could be moved to more secure facilities, Mr Ruddock said.

Up to 15 Kosovars who had been living in the community were now unaccounted for and considered to be on the run, he said. But one of the missing families was arrested yesterday at their Hobart home.

Mr Ruddock said he had not seen any credible claims from the remaining Kosovars that warranted consideration for them to stay.

Kosovars at Bandiana last night abandoned their hunger strike, saying there was no point continuing with it after Mr Ruddock refused to meet them.

A spokesman for the Bandiana Kosovars, Mr Naser Bega, described as "shocking" their first day in secure detention after being declared illegal immigrants.

"We don't know whether we are in Australia or in Serbia," he said by telephone. "There are many security guards around our flats."

Mr Bega said there was great distress when news of the High Court decision came. "People were crying," he said.

An Immigration Department spokesman said last night that Bandiana was now under the control of the department's security contractor, Australasian Correctional Management.

An increased security presence was visible at Bandiana yesterday. The borders were extended by early yesterday morning, with relatives, friends and media prohibited from making face-to-face contact with the Kosovars.

The chairman of the Australian-Albanian National Council, Mr Eric Lloga, last night expressed frustration with the Government's handling of the repatriation.

"This is a less than ideal way of bringing to a close a very successful humanitarian program," he said. "Converting a safe haven into a prison is not a good way to say goodbye."

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Mr Con Sciacca, said the Government should show some heart and let the Kosovars at least apply for refugee status.

"We should treat them in a flexible way ... a case-by-case basis. If they are genuine allow them to stay," Mr Sciacca said.

Original article