Kosovo drives Swiss asylum bid to record in 1999

Bern, Switzerland, Jan 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Ethnic conflict in Kosovo helped trigger a record number of requests for asylum in Switzerland in 1999, the government said on Friday.

Applications jumped 11.5 percent to just over 46,000, nearly two-thirds of them from Yugoslav citizens, mostly Kosovo refugees fleeing fighting between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in the southern Yugoslav province.

A spokesman for the Swiss Federal Refugee Office said around 50,000 Yugoslavs, mostly from Kosovo, had sought refuge between March 1998 and August 1999, when the region was at its most tense.

Including those who arrived earlier, around 60,000 asylum-seekers from Kosovo are now in Switzerland after the biggest refugee flow to the neutral country since World War Two.

The influx severely taxed Swiss officials' ability to cope, even with help from army units.

Swiss authorities have given Kosovo refugees until the end of May to go home or face forced repatriation, and some 16,000 have already left to take advantage of Swiss financial aid and help in rebuilding their homes.

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