Germany deports 'murderers' back home to Kosovo

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The Independent Online

Germany was sharply criticised by the United Nations refugee agency yesterday for "dumping" murderers and other criminals on Kosovo as part of a drive to repatriate 170,000 refugees to their devastated homeland.

Captain Wolfgang Wagner, of the German border police, based in Pristina, said two Albanian Airlines flights arrived from Germany on Wednesday with 160 deportees aboard. "Of this number, 50 had criminal backgrounds," he said. "They were all fingerprinted on arrival and then released. The whole criminal code was well represented on these flights."

Officials are particularly worried about the prospect of thousands of hardened criminals being added to Kosovo's explosive mix.

Some Albanians who fled the province in the past decade have been linked to organised crime syndicates operating across Europe. Kosovo Albanian mafias are believed to be active in the heroin trade, weapons smuggling and prostitution rackets.

German public opinion has been outraged by crimes committed by refugees and others from Kosovo and other Balkan provinces, but the country has long been the most generous in Western Europe in giving a safe haven to those fleeing civil war and economic privation. Germany has repeatedly demanded that its EU partners agree to a formal system of "burden-sharing", with quotas of asylum-seekers allocated to each country. But these entreaties have fallen largely on deaf ears, with the principal opposition to the Germans' plan coming from Britain.

A stamp on a Kosovo refugee's hand that allowed entry to Germany Germany accepted by far the largest number of the exodus of refugees during the Bosnian conflict.

In Pristina yesterday, Peter Kessler, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "We're concerned at the deportation of these criminals without adequate police and judicial structures in place. We're also concerned ... when people are collected in the dead of night like this and we're concerned about the absorption capacity of Kosovo."

Germany says all convicted criminals from Kosovo willbe sent home as soon asthey have served their sentences. But it does not rule out the possibility that convicts might find their jail terms shortened, ostensibly for good behaviour, and flown back to Pristina.

Capt Wagner said some 300 convicts had arrived since last month, with 500 deportees without criminal records. Wednesday's returnees had been arrested in Germany between 2am and 8am that morning, flown to Kosovo, and then taken straight from the airport to the addresses of any available relatives in the province.

International organisations trying to keep the peace in Kosovo are perturbed. "These are exactly what this province doesn't need at the moment," said one European Nato official. "There's no workable justice system, no proper judges, a huge crime rate, and now they're dumping murderers on us." But Germany says it is not her problem. "Kosovo is not a German protectorate," said an Interior Ministry spokesman in Berlin. "We take the deportees back to Pristina. The rest is up to the local authorities."

These agencies are likely to be swamped because of inadequate information from Germany.

"We have no access even to the German criminal database," said First Sergeant Bernard Lux, of the the German border police in Pristina. "So we can't tell exactly what they have done."

The policy to repatriate Albanian refugees to Kosovo was agreed by European governments at a conference in the Finnish town of Taampere last October. Expelling large numbers of Kosovo Albanians from Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, and an estimated 100,000 from Switzerland, was deemed a necessary measure as part of a crackdown on organised crime and a means of returning life in Kosovo to normal.

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