Germany ups pressure on Balkans refugees to leave

BERLIN, Apr 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) German authorities said Thursday that they may force thousands of refugees to leave the country if they do not accept a cash offer to depart voluntarily.

Seeking to send home tens of thousands who sought refuge from ethnic strife in the Balkans, Germany signed a "transit agreement" last month with southeast European states under which it is offering up to 2,100 marks ($1,000) per family for Yugoslav citizens to return by land to Kosovo.

The agreement came into effect on Thursday.

Among those affected by the plan are 160,000 Kosovo Albanians. Critics said that forcing them to return could have an explosive risk for the region.

"They will be sent back to areas which are already unstable or will become unstable," Christian Schwarz-Schilling, deputy chairman of parliament's human rights commission, told Reuters. "They themselves will become a destabilizing factor."

Germany took in some 350,000 refugees from the Bosnia war of the early 1990s, as well as the thousands from the Kosovo conflict.

Most of the Bosnian refugees have since returned, but the government is seeking to soothe public concerns about the cost of the refugee policy and has set the end of the year as a deadline for a full return.

Authorities in German states charged with handling the repatriations said that refugees in various regions had already been issued clear instructions to leave.

"They have been told their short-term residence permits will not be extended and that they are required to leave," said an interior ministry spokeswoman in the northern state of Lower Saxony, which up to 19,000 Kosovo Albanians must leave.

She said those that did not leave voluntarily could ultimately face deportation. She pointed to federal government advice that Kosovo was now sufficiently safe.

Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, southern states that took in large numbers of refugees, made similar warnings.

Schwarz-Schilling, one of a group of 100 parliamentarians that issued an open letter attacking the policy, accused Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily of tacitly supporting it.

"We've heard nothing from him. He's backed this line all along," said Schwarz-Schilling, a member of the conservative opposition. No one from the Interior Ministry was available for comment.

The letter urges regional authorities to exempt from repatriation categories of refugees including the physically weak, married couples of mixed ethnicity, conscientious objectors, and witnesses to war crimes.

Original article