The Age
Emotions run high as Kosovars return


Monday 17 April 2000

More than 100 Kosovo Albanians were set to fly out of Australia last night after most of the remaining refugees at the Bandiana haven in northern Victoria reluctantly agreed to leave.

But 12 still refusing to return home were flown to the Port Hedland detention centre in Western Australia to join nine others taken to the camp on Saturday.

There were emotional scenes at Bandiana as 111 refugees were taken in three buses to Sydney, where they were due to board a flight last night to the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

From there, the United Nations will take the refugees by bus to the Kosovo capital Pristina, and then on to other towns and villages.

A man from New South Wales who surrendered to immigration authorities after being on the run, and a family of four from Tasmania joined those who left Bandiana yesterday on the flight home.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock granted another 21 refugees last-minute reprieves because of health problems. They will be given several months to return home.

Yesterday's departures follow a week of tension at Bandiana, during which the facility was reclassified as a detention centre after refugees refused to return to Kosovo.

On Friday Prime Minister John Howard refused an application by Erik Lloga, the Australian-Albanian National Council chairman, for a three-month moratorium on refugee repatriation.

Mr Lloga, who spoke to many of the refugees before they left for Sydney yesterday, said the Kosovars were "resigned to their fate and subdued".

He said there was "some depression and an air of desperation" about the barracks as he offered the refugees his support.

"As you know, it wasn't their wish to be going. The Kosovars would have preferred not to be going into an environment that is still racked with violence and where there is still no personal security," Mr Lloga said.

"Despite the sad note however, the Kosovars have asked me to convey their profound gratitude to the Australian people for the care they have displayed, the friendships that will remain and many of the other things that have been done for them."

Speaking just before boarding a bus bound for Sydney, refugee Ali Ghouri said: "All the people are heartbroken. They are so saddened, I just can't explain it.

"I feel that I've lost my freedom and I'm going to a situation where I might be killed. I thought I would be going to a place that was free ... where I could start a new life, but I've lost that now."

Original article