Friday 21 April 2000In Kosovo, some refugees say they don't want to be back
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia - For nearly a year, home for Fadil Metaj was in Australia, where he earned money by picking fruit and his sons attended good schools.
He would have been happy to stay there, even as a stranger in a refugee camp on the other side of the world from Kosovo.
But Metaj and his family are among about 2,000 returnees who have arrived back in Kosovo in recent weeks - many of them unwillingly, after being pushed out by Western governments that say Kosovo is now safe.
'We didn't want to come. He who has no job has no money, has no good life,' the 41-year-old Metaj says, his face gaunt and his gaze unfocused.
While some people are glad to begin new lives in a more peaceful homeland, others are fearful of a future in a province still torn by ethnic hatreds, rampant unemployment and lack of basics such as regular power, drinking water and garbage disposal.
Metaj, his wife and two sons, ages eight and 11, were part of a group of Kosovo refugees who reluctantly returned from Sydney.
Nearly 4,000 Kosovo refugees were granted temporary visas by Australia last year while ethnic Albanians were fleeing a government crackdown. The vast majority have returned home.
But Metaj, fresh off the bus from Macedonia after an exhausting plane ride, says he and his family would have gladly remained in Australia instead of coming home to an uncertain future.
Before fleeing to Macedonia last year, Metaj used to transport tomatoes and lemons in his truck. But he says his truck was stolen by Serbs after he left, and the money he earned from fruit picking in northern Victoria has run out.
Serb soldiers took over the family's house on a hill in northeast Pristina. The troops are gone now, but so is the family's refrigerator, stove and television set. The house is defaced by graffiti, paint smears and broken windows.
Switzerland, Britain, Norway, France and Germany all have recently said they will send back thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees now that the security situation has improved and the weather is warmer.
How many Kosovo natives are currently living outside the province is not known. Germany has said it has up to 170,000 refugees, while Switzerland has about 30,000.
The Yugoslav republic of Serbia, meanwhile, has tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs who fled fearing revenge attacks from ethnic Albanians. Once numbering more than 200,000 - about 10 per cent of Kosovo's population - less than half that now remains.
Bringing back Serbs is even more complex than the return of ethnic Albanians and is both a political and a security issue.
Serb moderates, accused by hard-liners of betraying their community, say Serb refugees must begin to return within three months if they are to continue cooperation with the UN-led interim council, the de facto government in Kosovo.
The United Nations has tentatively agreed to Serb plans to return about 20,000 Serbs, but there are concerns about providing security for them. Many Serbs going about their daily business in ethnic Albanian-dominated areas are now assigned bodyguards or peacekeeper escorts.
There are US plans to resettle 700 Serbs in the northwest Kosovo village of Osojane by summer, but that is dependent on the cooperation of ethnic Albanian officials and the local community.
Kosovo's UN administrators are worried that the province's infrastructure and security forces will be unable to cope with an influx of returnees - whatever their ethnicity - and have urged nations to slow the pace of refugee returns.