A year after, 70 000 Kosovars still away from home

PARIS, Mar 22, 2000 -- (AFP) At least 70,000 Kosovo refugees are still living far from home a year after hostilities which drove 900,000 ethnic Albanians out of the Serbian province to neighboring countries and further afield.

Official sources and relief aid bodies say most refugees, scattered in neighboring Albania and Macedonia and more distant nations, returned home within weeks of a June 9 peace agreement that ended NATO's 78-day air campaign against Yugoslavia and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.

But many, especially those who escaped to eastern Europe, are still reluctant to return despite assistance offers from most governments involved.

Refugees came under pressure from the governments of Albania and Macedonia to leave the chaotic makeshift tent cities set up on their territory by relief organizations. Those who stayed in these countries have found new homes with local families.

Neighboring states admitted the largest number. Albania received half-a-million of whom about 4,000 have stayed on because their Kosovo homes were destroyed.

Macedonia took in 360,000, Montenegro, a constituent republic of Yugoslavia together with Serbia, received 70,000, and Bosnia 21,700.

Some 14,000 Kosovo Albanians are still with families in Macedonia after the last camp, at Stenkovec, was closed in February. By the end of this month they will lose their refugee status and authorities will no longer provide repatriation aid.

Most of the Kosovo refugees in Montenegro left after the war ended, but some 20,000 Serb and Gypsy refugees replaced them.

Bosnia still shelters 5,800 Kosovars, Croatia 3,000 -- compared to 4,000 at the height of the crisis -- and Slovenia 1,100 compared to 3,450.

Slovenia is offering 300 marks (153 euros, dollars) in repatriation assistance.

From the beginning of April last year, other European countries were asked to take in refugees when it became clear that neighboring states, especially Macedonia, could no longer cope with the flood.

Some were cautious about setting up airlifts. After hesitation, France organized thrice-weekly flights for two months, taking in 6,300 refugees.

Including illegal immigrants, the number rose to 8,500, mainly housed in reception centers. Since then 2,600 have accepted government repatriation aid of 3,000 francs (457 euros, dollars) per adult.

Italy also came under strong pressure, letting in 10,000 Kosovars who were repatriated last July.

Germany was already host to some 165,000 Kosovo Albanians before the NATO bombing, and admitted a further 14,600 who do not have a right to asylum and could be expelled. Only 2,000 have so far returned home voluntarily.

Britain took in 3,300 in addition to some 10,000 Kosovars who had been arriving since 1991. So far only about 1,800 have chosen to return home as part of a repatriation scheme.

Sweden has always been particularly welcoming to refugees from Kosovo, having received some 70,000 since the beginning of the 1990s, of whom 30,000 now have unlimited right of residence.

It admitted 7,000 Kosovars between last June and September with a deadline of next April 30, after which they must be be repatriated, each receiving assistance of approximately 600 euros.

Of the 8,000 refugees in Norway, 4,000 have left with an incentive of 1,8470 euros per person. Some 400 of the 1,000 Kosovars in Finland have left, and 1,300 of the 2,800 who arrived in Denmark have likewise returned home.

The Belgian government has not yet decided on repatriation aid. It believes the 8,000 Kosovars it admitted should return home voluntarily.

Some 18,000 Kosovars who went to Turkey have since returned home.

Elsewhere, the United States received some 6,000, Canada 5,174, Australia about 3,000 and Israel several dozen families.

Original article