Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Germany to repatriate thousands of Kosovo refugees

Germany to repatriate thousands of Kosovo refugees,,4789691,00.html

German and UN KFOR troops still ensure security in Kosovo
A deal to be signed soon between Germany and Kosovo will pave the way for the return of thousands of refugees, many of them Roma, who fled the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

The German interior ministry has said that a repatriation agreement for Kosovo refugees would be signed within weeks. A ministry spokesman, Stefan Paris, said in Berlin on Wednesday that the accord to be signed with the government in Pristina met all international standards for handling refugees and that all humanitarian aspects had been considered in the decision.

The German government came forward with the announcement following a parliamentary question raised by the Left party, which has expressed concern that minorities are discriminated against and persecuted in Kosovo. Many of the refugees are Roma, also known as Gypsies.

Once signed, the agreement would stipulate that Kosovo in principle accepts all people holding identity documents, or who had previously lived in the region, according to a report by the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

UN recommends voluntary returns
Tensions remain between ethnic Serbs and Kosovo Albanians

Currently, there are more than 14,000 officially registered refugees from Kosovo living in Germany, including 10,000 Roma, all or whom are required by law to leave the country once their home region no longer presents a danger to life and limb.

The German interior ministry has pledged to apply for a maximum of 2,500 repatriations to ensure that Kosovo is not overburdened by a sudden influx of returnees. Last year, 900 Kosovars returned to the region. Similar programs have been carried out in the past for refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The ministry says that ethnically-motivated violence in Kosovo has declined significantly since the breakaway Serb province gained independence in February 2008, and is therefore encouraging people to return by paying them 750 euros ($1,120) plus travel expenses.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, after visiting the region earlier this year, has said that Kosovo was still susceptible to ethnic tensions and that living conditions were poor. The agency has recommended that refugees return on a voluntary basis only.

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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