War in the Balkans: The Exiles - Despite the misery, they still want to go home

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THEY HAVE watched the misery of the refugees on the border and the violence inflicted by the Serbs in Kosovo, but many of the Kosovan Albanian refugees who are already in Britain want to return home as soon as it is safe.

Behdzet Muharremi, 48, a company clerk from Mitrovich is one of the latest wave of refugees. He arrived in Britain six months ago with his wife and three children, but does not want to stay indefinitely. "We left because of the systematic violence of the Serbian regime," he said. "Schools had been shut down and teachers were being killed. We could no longer stand the threats of violence. I was physically threatened every time I went into town. I was searched by the police and made to give up any money I was carrying."

Mr Muharremi, paid over pounds 3,000 to unnamed sources to get him and his family out of Kosovo. After an arduous three- day journey by coach and car through Macedonia and Germany, he landed at Dover with pounds 3 in his pocket and asked for asylum. The family are now temporarily settled in an end- of-terrace house in Southend, Essex, a seaside town which provides a haven for 30 other Albanian families from Kosovo.

Their home was provided by social services and the family live off benefits as Mr Muharremi does not have a work permit. His two youngest children, Breveza, 16 and Bujar, 10, go to school and his 18-year-old daughter, Arta, goes to college. He also has two older children, who settled in Britain nearly four years ago, Brikena, a 20-year-old law student, and a 23-year-old, son, Gamzend. "I would say that I have had a very good welcome here. The most important thing is that we are all safe," he said. Mr Muharremi, who does not speak English, said that while his application for asylum for his family is being processed he has to report to the police station each month.

Despite his warm reception in Britain, Mr Muharremi, does not want to stay here. "As soon as my country is safe I will go back." Mr Muharremi was working as a clerk in a company until 1991 when Serbian police moved in and told all 1,050 workers - 70 per cent Albanian - to go. The following day a list was put up of people who would be allowed to work and he was not among them. After that he had to rely on part-time jobs and selling family land to survive. When he finally made the heart-breaking decision to leave, he had to leave behind his home - a five-bedroom house where the family had lived for 30 years. "I don't know what has happened to it. It may have been stolen like other properly or it may have been burned down," he said.

It is estimated that there are 10,000 Kosovan Albanian refugees already in Britain. According to government figures, 89 per cent of those who claimed to be refugees fleeing persecution have been given asylum status. This gives them the right to remain in Britain, to work and claim benefits.

Fatmir Recica, and his wife Kumrije, from Pristina, Kosovo, arrived in London with their three young children, six years ago. Although they have been given British citizenship and their children are settled in British schools, the family want to return to their native country and rebuild their lives.

Mr Recica, 42, said they had to leave the country because of constant threats from the Serbian police. "I felt that for my children and for my wife it was not safe to be there because I was involved in the union with the telephone company I worked for and had helped prepare the elections," he said.

When they first arrived the family found it difficult to adjust to English life. "We knew English from films on the television but it is very different when you suddenly arrive and have to speak it. We used to have a good house and we hoped we could get a better life. Suddenly we had to flee and we were in a small room with three little children. I felt so vulnerable, my husband got very nervous and once I remember he shouted at the children so badly that I felt it was all my fault," said Mrs Recica, 37.

The family lived in a three- bedroom council house in north-west London, and because Mr Recica is out of work they rely on social security.

Mr Recica said that they had received excellent treatment from the British government when they arrived. "They gave us tea and asked after the health of our children, and if we needed any milk, and gave us biscuits for the children," he said. "Britain has become our second home but Kosovo is where we belong."

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