Swiss to speed up expulsions of Kosovo refugees

GENEVA, Jul 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) Switzerland will more than double the rate of its deportations of Kosovo refugees after the end of the summer, the federal office for refugees said on Tuesday. It said Switzerland, which took in tens of thousands of Kosovans last year, plans to send 10,000 of them by the end of the year back to the province where Serbs and ethnic Albanians fought until a NATO-led bombing campaign forced Serb forces to withdraw in June 1999.

Some 18,500 Kosovans left Switzerland voluntarily last year under a Swiss government program that included cash handouts of up to 2,000 Swiss francs ($1,222) per adult and 1,000 Swiss francs per child, said the office's spokesman Dominique Boillat.

The deadline for the sponsored voluntary departures expired at the end of May and the number of forced returns would now increase, he said.

The increase in the pace of expulsions comes despite warnings from United Nations officials that the devastated Yugoslav province can't cope with large numbers of returnees.

The top UN official in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, urged Switzerland in May to go slow in sending the refugees back home.

Boillat said Switzerland was negotiating the rate of returns with the United Nations in Kosovo on a monthly basis.

The number of deportations is expected to rise to 750 each in June, July and August compared to 500 a month earlier in the year, he added.

"Our aim is 750 forced returns a month for the summer months. But after September, we will speed up the forced repatriations." He said the figure could rise to up to 2,000.

Despite the end of the official cash incentives, voluntary returns were expected to continue at a rate of up to 4,000 in the three months from June, Boillat said. Switzerland is home to an estimated 150,000 ethnic Albanians who provide cheap labor in jobs the Swiss do not want. In addition to that figure, Boillat said the country was host to some 60,000 asylum seekers from Kosovo.

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