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Minister thanks workers at East Hills

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M e d i a R e l e a s e

The Ηθη. Philip Ruddock MP Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Telephone: (02) 6277 7860 Facsimile: (02) 6273 4144

MPS 101/99


The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, today officially thanked those organisations involved in processing the almost 4000 Kosovars who have passed through the East Hills Centre since their arrival in Australia.

Speaking at a special barbecue lunch at the Centre, Mr Ruddock said that since the first plane load of Kosovars touched down in Sydney in early May, a total of 3919 people - 2024 men and 1895 women - had been through initial processing procedures at East Hills.

Mr Ruddock said that even a cursory glance at some of the statistics involved in the operation at East Hills revealed the enormity and complexity of the task undertaken.

Ίη processing the Kosovars at East Hills, those involved have had to deal with the needs of people ranging in age from six months to 75 years of age, not to mention pregnant women, with two children bom in Australia to date.

“The bulk of the group was aged between 26 and 44 years (1089) and 3 and12 years (1081). However, there were also demands placed by the fa d that 343 Kosovars were under two years of age.

“In addition, those involved have processed groups of over 400 in under four days to ensure the Centre was ready to receive the next group. It really has been an extraordinary effort and I want to personally thank every person who has been involved’’ the Minister said.

Mr Ruddock presented Certificates of Appreciation to the Albanian Community Volunteers, Australian Red Cross, St Vincent de Raul Society, Anglicare NSW and the Refugee Council of Australia.

He said he planned to thank groups and individuals at all other sites around the country in the near future.

"The level of support from individuals and organisations for the Kosovars who sought safe haven In Australia has been overwhelming," said the Minister.

This is the largest single humanitarian evacuation that Australia has ever undertaken and the level of co-operation from the Australian community, non­ government groups and other organisations has been nothing short of astounding.

'The effort, skill and sheer professionalism of agency and community groups along with their generosity and kindness, has meant the recently arrived

Kosovars now feel not only safe and secure, but very welcome," said Mr Ruddock.

The Minister said a number of the Kosovars he had spoken to had expressed their immense gratitude to those Australians who had made their arrival so welcoming.

"All Australians should be justifiably proud of their contributions, as I believe we have made a real difference to the lives of these people," Mr Ruddock said.

While at East Hills, the Minister advised that up to 800 Kosovars would remain at East Hills rather than be transferred to another safe haven, now that processing tasks had been completed.

In addition, the Minister said that while many Kosovars were very keen to return home, Australia's official repatriation program was yet to start.

"These people were evacuated at the request of the UNHCR and clearly we will continue to consult with the UNHCR on when is the right time for them to return home," said the Minister.

"I would stress, however, that the Kosovars are guests in Australia and can leave if they have pressing reasons to do so.

“What we want to ensure, however, is that people return to a safe environment where they can resume their lives. I am aware of reports that up to 80 per cent of homes in Kosovo have been destroyed. Clearly people want to return home

as soon as possible, but in many cases there will be no homes to return to.

“When the time comes for the Kosovars to return home, I feel sure they will take with them some very fond memories of Australia, as well as some enduring friendships that have been forged during their stay here." Mr Ruddock concluded.

ENDS Saturday 26 June 1999

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