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Local church backs business calls for Kosovars to stay

Catholic parishes and schools in the NSW/Victoria border cities of Albury and Wodonga are supporting calls by a 700 member local business group to allow Kosovars on temporary visas to stay.

Recent applications for protection were unsuccessful, and the refugees once again face an uncertain future.

"The Albury-Wodonga region is suffering a severe labour shortage, with Wodonga in particular, having an unemployment rate of 2 per cent," said Albury-Wodonga Business development manager Tim Stewart, who has petitioned Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone on behalf of the Kosovars and local businesses.

Phil Bretherton of Wodonga Catholic Parishes says that since arriving in Albury-Wodonga five years ago as victims of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, 106 people from 30 families are still in "visa limbo".

He said: "As those most traumatised by events in their former homeland, these families, many who have settled in regional areas, have had to deal with further uncertainty created by a bureaucracy, seemingly intransigent to their mental anguish.

"Most of these families have settled well into their communities and their recovery from torture and trauma has generally been aided because of substantial support provided by local communities. Many have had children in Australia and now have children attending Catholic schools.

Catholics in Wodonga have raised the issue with Sandhurst Bishop Joe Grech, who chairs the Bishops Committee For Migrants And Refugees. The Australian Catholic Migrants and Refugees Office in Canberra is also monitoring the Kosovars' situation.

St Monica's Primary School principal, Mrs Bernadette Florence, told the Border Mail newspaper that a petition supporting the Kosovars was begun by children worried about the Kosovar children.

She told the paper that it would be sent to other local schools.

Mr Bretherton called on Catholic families to ask Senator Vanstone and the Prime Minister to "do the right thing by these people who arrived here to great fanfare as invited victims of war under the 'Safe-Haven' legislation".

He said the few that are left "have already become wonderful members of the Australian community".

Business calls for Kosovars to stay (The Border Mail 4/8/04)
Kosovar Refugees Need Support (Catholic Parishes of Wodonga 30/7/04)

Bishops Committee For Migrants And Refugees
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
Sandhurst Catholic Diocese
Albury-Wodonga Business

5 Aug 2004