UNHCR concerned by German repatriation of Kosovars

PRISTINA, Mar 31, 2000 -- (AFP) The UN's refugee agency in Pristina said Thursday it was concerned by Germany's decision to repatriate some thousands of Kosovars, some of whom have criminal records.

Germany sent back 160 Kosovars in two planes Wednesday from Karlsruhe in the southeast to Kosovo's provincial capital Pristina, according to Captain Wolfgang Wagner of the UN customs and border police.

He said 50 of the deportees had criminal backgrounds while the others had residence permits which had expired.

Many of the residence permits were due to expire Wednesday, the day of the Kosovars' deportation, said Nadia Younes, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said he was concerned by the involuntary returns and stressed the "limited absorption capacity of Kosovo."

"We are also concerned by the deportation of those alleged criminals without the adequate police and judicial structure in place," he said.

UNMIK police took fingerprints of suspected criminals before releasing them Wednesday, said Wagner.

He added that the UN force has no access to German police files.

The UNHCR also criticized the involuntary return Wednesday of a family of Roma, members of "a minority group that can face threats" in the unruly Yugoslav province.

Almost 4,500 Kosovo Albanians without residence permits and 300 with "a criminal background" living in Germany have been repatriated since February, said Sergeant Bernard Lux, another UN customs and border officer.

One UN official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the Kosovars sent back Wednesday were forced to leave Germany in questionable conditions.

"They were woken up between two and eight in morning and had very little time to gather their belongings," the official said.

Most of them were aged between 20 and 50, he added.

Following a court decision in the central German town of Kassel, published on February 28, Kosovo refugees in Germany cannot claim asylum and can therefore be expelled.

On March 4, the interior ministry said that since UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner signed a memorandum with Interior Minister Otto Schily last November, the federal border police had expelled 60 Kosovars with criminal records.

Around 180,000 Kosovar Albanians lived in Germany, of whom 14,614 arrived during NATO's three-month air campaign last year, the interior ministry said.

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