Australia attacked for returning refugees to shattered Kosovo

SYDNEY, Apr 19, 2000 -- (AFP) Australia was accused Wednesday of sending Kosovar Albanian refugees back to a shattered homeland where they face desperate shortages of food, shelter and basic services.

Television news bulletins are showing refugees with all their possessions in plastic bags being left at their devastated former homes without any means to repair them, and without food or money.

Erik Lloga, a leader of the Albanian community in Australia who traveled with the refugees back to Kosovo, told ABC radio from Pristina that many who had lost their homes were getting no support from the aid agencies.

He described the services as "a shambles," adding: "What struck me was the disorganization on the ground."

Most of the refugees were simply left with no advice about who or what to turn to, he said.

"Those services, even basic information ... has not been made available to them -- simple as that," he said.

"In one case, I was surprised to find a young man who was from eastern Kosovo who was simply told he could go anywhere he liked, and that was that."

Refugees who had no money were not given any and those that had some Australian dollars were not able to exchange them.

Prime Minister John Howard defended his government's decision to send the refugees home, saying conditions now were better than when the refugees were evacuated.

"The circumstances in Kosovo, even though they're far from ideal and they're not the sort of circumstances that anyone is happy with, are infinitely better, more secure, more protected than they were when we first took the refugees and that is the valid comparison," he said.

He also argued that if they were allowed to stay in Australia, they would have jumped ahead of people with equal or greater claims to refugee status.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said support for those returning was an obligation for the international community.

It was naive to think Australia could arrange to settle people from "half-way round the world".

Original article