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U.S. Offers Kosovar Albanians Safe Haven

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

Fort Dix, N.J., June 15, 1999 – This story is part of a series of articles detailing U.S. military support to the Kosovar refugees who have been provided safe haven at Fort Dix, N.J. To see the entire series, visit our Operation Provide Refuge web site.

More than 4,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees have reached a temporary safe haven here at the invitation of the U.S. government.

Vice President Gore announced U.S. plans April 21 to relocate up to 20,000 Kosovar refugees. He said those with family ties in America and those in vulnerable circumstances, such as single mothers or people with medical conditions, would be given priority.

The first Kosovar refugees reached America in early May. Those with relatives in the United States arrived on commercial flights to meet family members at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Those to be linked with sponsors arrived at McGuire Air Force Base on charter flights. From there, they boarded buses bound for a reception center at Fort Dix's Doughboy Gymnasium, where an interagency task force welcomed them.

The Department of Health and Human Services heads the effort, supported by the Defense Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service, State Department, American Red Cross, New Jersey National Guard and nongovernment resettlement agencies. When each refugee family finished processing, soldiers and Immigration and Naturalization Service interpreters escorted them to assigned dormitories.

The Kosovars entered the United States with the legal status of "refugees," immigration officials said. As such, they can work in the United States and may also decide to stay. They can apply for permanent residency after one year and for citizenship after five. U.S. officials, however, said they expect most of the refugees will want to return to Kosovo, and the U.S. government is committed to help them return once it is safe to do so.

Only blood relatives can sponsor refugees in the United States, according to officials of the Immigration and Refugee Service of America, the agency coordinating resettlement processing at Fort Dix. Blood relatives should call 800-727-4420 to find the closest resettlement agency where they can fill out an affidavit of relationship.

Church groups or others wishing to help sponsors should contact one of nine nongovernment organizations contracted by the State Department to resettle the refugees. The nine are: Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, Immigration and Refugee Services of America, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, U.S. Catholic Conference, and World Relief Refugee Services.

These agencies, through their networks of more than 400 affiliates, help the refugees attain sponsors, get their children in school, apply for work, receive language training and other assistance.

The flow of refugees to Fort Dix stopped at the end of May after the last of nine flights arrived. U.S. officials said refugees bound for the United States will instead complete processing overseas and then go directly to relatives or sponsors. Once the refugees still at Fort Dix leave, the center will be mothballed, available for future contingencies, defense officials said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageEthnic Albanians wave to military and civilian officials upon arrival at New Jersey's McGuire Air Force Base. The refugees traveled from Macedonia to reach temporary safe haven in America. U.S. Army Photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageXVIII Airborne Corps soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., watch ethnic Albanians arrive at the reception center at Fort Dix, N.J. U.S. Army Photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn ethnic Albanian boy warily eyes the crowd at the Fort Dix, N.J., reception center. He was one of 4,000 Kosovar refugees to arrive at the Army Reserve installation in May. DoD Photo  
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