The Age
Demands to support Kosovars naive, says Ruddock


Thursday 20 April 2000

CANBERRA - Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said yesterday it was "naive" to think the Australian Government would provide support on the ground for repatriated Kosovars.

Mr Ruddock was defending the government's repatriation of more than 100 Kosovar refugees to Pristina over the weekend.

An Albanian representative from Australia, Mr Eric Llonga, followed the refugees to Kosovo and said yesterday the services on the ground in Pristina were a "shambles".

The refugees were not given funds when they were flown out, he said.

Albury community representative Ms Helen Gibbs, who has kept in touch with Kosovars repatriated from the Bandiana barracks, said yesterday she had heard of up to 30 people sleeping in the same room because of lack of shelter in Pristina.

International aid agencies, including World Vision, have said resources are stretched to the limit to provide services for refugees returning to Kosovo.

Mr Ruddock said it was the responsibility of the international community and aid agencies to provide support, not the government.

"To expect that halfway around the world Australia was going to have in place arrangements that would assure people were settled into the sorts of circumstances that they had before the war in Kosovo started ... I think would be somewhat naive," Mr Ruddock told ABC radio.

He said funds had been offered to Kosovars who went back last year but refugees who had recently returned did not receive any money.

"You can't expect that people are going to have their houses rebuilt and their jobs lined up for them in a situation like this," he said.

Prime Minister John Howard also defended the repatriation of the refugees yesterday.

He said the security situation had changed and that is was now safe for Kosovars to return.

A spokesman for Mr Ruddock said the UN High Commission for Refugees assured the government that refugees would receive transport and shelter when they arrived in Kosovo.

A UNHCR spokeswoman in Australia said the situation in Kosovo was "far from ideal" but it was safe for refugees to return.

She said UNHCR did not recommend or ask that any government provide funds for repatriated Kosovar refugees.

Repatriation was proving to be a strain but the numbers coming from Australia were too small to significantly increase the pressure on the UN and aid agencies, she said.

Original article