Peace in the Balkans: Refugees - `We like it in Britain, but we just want to go home'

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The Independent Online
AS THE first wave of Nato troops enters Kosovo as part of the peace agreement, the feeling among refugees in Britain is that, given the chance, they would return as soon as possible. However, many are very concerned about their safety and think it will be impossible for them to live with the Serbs again.

Xhejlane Veseli, 34, a housewife from Pristina, who arrived in Manchester on 22 May, has been housed with her two young sons and 120 Kosovo Albanian refugees in a former residential home in Liverpool. Her youngest son, aged 4, is so traumatised by what has happened to them that he clings to his mother.

"Regardless of all the suffering that we have experienced and regardless of all the damage that has been done, we want to go back home," Mrs Veseli said. "But all of us have the same view that once and for all, we want to be separated from the Serbs, so that never again will we be controlled by them and never again will they be able to do this to us.

"We want to go back to our own independent country. We want our children to be free and not have to live under the Serbs, as we and our grandfathers have done.

"When Nato infantry go into Kosovo, we will be right behind them. We have been traumatised all the time since we left Kosovo, and although we do like it here, we just want to go back home to our country."

Mrs Veseli hid in her cellar in Kosovo for several days with eight children, including her own, when Nato bombing started on 24 March. She was too afraid to leave the cellar and fed the children on bread and sugar. After eight days cramped in the cellar, the Serbs discovered their hiding place and ordered them to leave. "The Serb army told us we had two minutes to leave, otherwise we would be massacred," she said.

"They wouldn't let us take any food or belongings. We had to leave with nothing."

Mrs Veseli's husband is missing and she had to leave her mother and father in Pristina. "My parents were forced out of their own home and into another flat somewhere in Pristina but I haven't heard from them for a long time now," she said.

Her ordeal then involved her walking with the children to the Macedonian border. The trek took her more than two weeks; then she had to stand at the border for four days before she was allowed to cross. "All the way out of the country they [Serb officials] were searching us and taking our documents," she said.

Since the bombing began, Britain has taken 3,119 refugees from Kosovo.

They have been housed in 21 centres, in cities including Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow and Leicester.

The pain of leaving his four brothers in Kosovo is carved in the face of 68-year-old Mustaf Sadiku, who is also housed in Liverpool.

He was forced out of his home as soon as the bombing started and drove to the border.

"I received very little warning that I had to leave my home.

"I drove up to the border with Macedonia but before I reached the border I was forced to leave my car with all my possessions in it and walked for two days to get to the border crossing," he said.

"On my way to the border they asked for money but I didn't have any. I don't why they let me go, as many others were forced to stay. I have six brothers and four of them are still in Kosovo. I don't know how they or their families are, as I haven't been able to contact them since I arrived in England. I do know that their village was burned down and all that remains is a big field."

Mr Sadiku is sceptical about the peace agreement reached between Nato and Belgrade. "We are not sure whether the Serbs will stick to any agreement," he said.

"There are circumstances that will allow us to go back but it will be hard for us. All of our houses have been burnt down and so have our fields. We want Nato to guarantee they will protect our lives, as the Serbs will be right on our border and we are worried that this will happen again.

"I will go back because I want to die there, as all my memories are at home; there is nothing sweeter in the world than your own country. The sad thing is that I will not see anything that I have spent a life- time building, as everything is gone."Fighting back tears, Mr Sadiku said: "Ever since we got into the buses to come to England we have been really well treated. I don't think that we will ever be able to repay all that you have done for us."