The Age
More refugees to return home


Saturday 15 April 2000

A Kosovar family detained in Hobart yesterday agreed to leave Australia after hopes ended of them staying under the sponsorship of the Tasmanian government.

Despite winning the backing of Tasmania's Premier, Jim Bacon, federal immigration officials insisted the Sopjani family return to Kosovo.

An Immigration Department spokesman said, "They understand the Minister for Immigration, Mr Ruddock, has promised some humanitarian visas and they want to be part of that process."

They join 90 Kosovar refugees currently being held in Bandiana, Victoria, who yesterday agreed to observe tomorrow's deadline for repatriation. A further 38 refugees at the same detention centre are still refusing to leave Australia voluntarily.

An Immigration Department spokesman said these people would now be moved to detention facilities at Woomera and Port Hedland. The government had increased pressure on the Bandiana refugees by refusing access to visitors and confining them to their barracks.

Community representatives were finally admitted to the centre late yesterday following the rejection by the Prime Minister of a last-minute appeal against repatriation by Albanian Australian community representatives.

Mr Ali Gaihu, a refugee at the centre, said people inside the facility were "depressed and traumatised" by news of possible forced repatriation. "We are so tired of this. Trying to stay here is a fight for my life," he said.

Mr Howard said Australia had been more than generous to the Kosovars, but it was important to apply the same rules to all arrivals, to avoid "further traumatic cases".

More than 4000 Albanian Kosovars were brought to Australia at the height of Serb violence.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government was yesterday forced to defend the meeting of new Australian ambassador Charles Stuart with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, saying Mr Stuart had delivered a clear message on human rights.

The US criticised Australia for sending a new ambassador to Belgrade, fearing it could boost Mr Milosevic in his quest for international acceptance.

Original article