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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Germany returns Kosovo refugees
Roma refugees in Kosovo
Many Roma families were displaced in Kosovo's ethnic violence
A small group of ethnic minority Kosovan refugees has become the first to be sent back to Kosovo by Germany in a controversial repatriation programme.

The group, from the Albanian-speaking Ashkali community, were among some 30 people flown in from Duesseldorf.

The UN mission in Kosovo (Unmik) expects Germany to repatriate around 60 Ashkalis a month, but it is not accepting any Roma (Gypsies).

The German authorities said it was safe for the returnees to go back to Kosovo.

The UN's refugee agency warned in March that Kosovo was still unsafe, but the head of the UN's office for returns and communities in Kosovo, Kilian Kleinschmidt, told the BBC that the returnees would be in no imminent danger.

He said the level of violence had decreased "tremendously".

"There is discrimination, there is less chances for minorities and it will remain an issue," he told the Europe Today programme.

"We should not say it is dangerous, it is uncomfortable. It requires courage from all sides to live together."

Going home

Critics have been concerned that the situation in Kosovo is still too dangerous for the Roma in particular, as some have been persecuted by members of the Albanian majority.

Mr Kleinschmidt rejected claims from some Roma rights groups that they would be put into "concentration camps".

He said there may be people of same ethnic group living together but there would not be such camps. He said the UN was keen for these people to have the opportunity to integrate.

"But we are not talking about mass returns at this point, for instance the flight today from Germany, there are some 34 or 35 people or so," he said.

"Most of them will almost immediately go back to their communities and go and live with their families."

Few options

Germany is home to about 38,000 members of Kosovo's ethnic minorities, along with 16,000 Kosovo Albanians.

They fled from Kosovo when war engulfed the Serbian province in the late 1990s. The German authorities say up to 10,000 Kosovo refugees will be repatriated over the coming months.

Daut Dauti, spokesman for the interim Kosovo government, said it was a very difficult situation as the region was "a quite poor place which has come out from destruction from the war".

"But there are good things from this, and there are bad things from these forced returnees," he said.

"Good, is that the German authorities have qualified the situation in Kosovo as quiet and as very safe for Roma, which is quite so.

"But the other problem is that the Roma and others who are being returned practically have nowhere to go, their homes have been destroyed, there will be no job, no work for them, there is no money, no social help and so on."

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Timeline: Kosovo
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Regions and territories: Kosovo
08 Mar 05 |  Country profiles


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