The Age
Kosovo safe for most, Ruddock says


Friday 14 April 2000

CANBERRA - Kosovo is safe for most refugees to return home, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said last night.

Mr Ruddock was responding to comments from the head of Kosovo's United Nations-led administration who said he did not want Australia to force refugees back to the province.

Bernard Kouchner made his comments amid increasing concern about the return of refugees and the damage a large and uncontrolled influx this year could have on efforts to establish stability and order in the war-scarred province.

"We have received advice from the UNHCR ... for most Kosovars it is safe to return," Mr Ruddock said yesterday. He said Mr Kouchner's views had been personal.

The UN mission is concerned by a recent wave of forced repatriations, mainly from Germany. Mr Kouchner feared an influx of tens of thousands of refugees could put severe strains on the territory's shattered infrastructure, war-damaged housing stock and fragile social balance.

Mr Ruddock said safety was the key concern of the government, not infrastructure details.

"When it is safe and secure for people to go back home and rebuild their own lives, the accommodation in our humanitarian program ought to be for those who have no place to go," he said.

The remaining Kosovars in Victoria have been offered the chance to apply for the special humanitarian program once they return to Kosovo. The Federal Government said it would give the remaining 146 Kosovo Albanians increased opportunities to apply to return to Australia.

The government is trying to get them out of their accommodation by the weekend.

More than 90 people have agreed to the government's terms to go back, a spokesman for Mr Ruddock said.

Original article