The Age
Kosovars win brief extension


Thursday 13 April 2000

BANDIANA - A small number of Kosovar refugees were still holding out last night as the Federal Government extended its ultimatum for them to sign up for repatriation.

Among the 146 staying at the temporary detention centre, two adults have refused to submit saying they preferred detention in a more secure facility in Australia to returning to their homeland.

One family, residing in Tasmania, had been offered sponsorship by the Tasmanian Government last night. The scheme was one of a range of options put to the Kosovars.

The Sopjanis family, who were staying in a Hobart motel, would still have to return to Kosovo for their sponsorship applications to be processed.

The arrangement was extended to include another refugee, Akif Lutfiu, 19, who was in hiding in Tasmania last night.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said many of the Kosovars who had agreed to leave had indicated their interest in applying to return to Australia.

"There is a role the state can play if it sees people as having skills that are needed and they wish to sponsor," he said. "I am told many of the Kosovars had held down jobs. They have skills that may be in short supply in some regional areas ... if people want to sponsor them back they can."

The Bandiana Kosovars had until 9am yesterday to agree to leave or face being moved to detention centres, but the deadline was extended as talks continued last night.

The refugees emerged split from last night's discussions, with 90 indicating verbally they would go, but a further 54 still considering Mr Ruddock's ultimatum.

Negotiations were due to resume today.

An Immigration Department spokesman at Bandiana, Phil Mayne, said: "We are confident that most of them will take up the minister's offer."

One sticking point in the talks appears to be whether the Kosovars' status as illegal immigrants will be rescinded. They believe it will affect their welfare when they return to Kosovo if they are branded "illegal".

One of the waiverers, Mr Naser Bega, who has been acting as a media spokesman for the Bandiana Kosovars, said his decision had been complicated when he learnt his face and details had been broadcast on Serbian television.

Mr Bega, in a telephone interview, said he feared this would make him a target if her returned to Kosovo.

"It is a question of death or life for me," he said.

Original article