War In The Balkans: Exiles plead with Rugova to stay put

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF exiled Kosovars begged their pacifist leader, Ibrahim Rugova, to stop them from being forced out of their refugee camps and dispersed all over the world.

Mr Rugova had a rapturous reception yesterday when he visited a camp at Blace, Macedonia. The visit was his first to a refugee camp and was designed to counter reports of struggles between his supporters and the militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

He heard repeated calls that displaced Kosovars should stay together on the Kosovo border and not be dispersed all over Albania and the West, as some aid agencies have advocated for safety and health reasons. "Don't let them separate us," an old man pleaded. "We will be lost: we shall lose the young - they will not go back."

Aid workers and UN officials said only a small number of people in the camps were economic refugees who wanted a new life in the West.

Immigration officials from the US, which could be seen as a highly desirable destination for those from the poorest state in Europe, said they were having difficulty filling the offered 20,000 places, despite a generous incentive scheme. Only 3,851 Kosovars had gone. "They are certainly not exactly rushing," said a US official . "There's a feeling among many that America is just too far from home and once they go there they will never be able to return home. There is no great tradition of Albanians migrating to the US."

There is no such difficulty with Germany and Switzerland, countries with big Albanian populations. Germany has offered 15,000 places and has already taken 12,745. Amin Awad, the UN deputy emergency co-ordinator for Macedonia, said: "There is a lot of anxiety among the Kosovo Albanians as to where they end up. They weigh things up very carefully and don't jump on the first plane. They talk to people who have gone to a new country, often on mobile telephones, and ask about their experiences.

"There is also a great desire not to break their roots with Kosovo; they don't want to go to places too far away, even if these are wealthy places."

Adem Mahmuti, 45, an engineer, turned down the possible chance for himself and his family to go to the US or Canada. "I have relations in New Jersey and Toronto. But I don't want to go, I want to go back home ... There will be a need for people like me when we rebuild our country."

Yesterday the new refugee influx from Kosovo stopped as suddenly as it had begun, leading aid workers to suspect that Slobodan Milosevic had closed the border again.