Fort Dix speeds up relocation of Kosovo refugees
June 6, 1999
From Reporter Deborah Feyerick
FORT DIX, New Jersey (CNN) -- The sounds of Islamic calls to prayer echo across Fort Dix, temporary host to thousands of ethnic Albanians who fled war-ravaged Kosovo. But the U.S. Army base will soon play final taps for the refugee resettlement program that should end this month.
"I feel like I'm in a paradise," one Kosovar explained, as she described the base that has been a haven for about 4,000 refugees.
With nationwide settlement efforts in full swing, the military has no plans to bring other refugees to the makeshift village.
So far, 500 Kosovars have been relocated; about 100 are scheduled to leave daily. All the refugees should know by mid-June where they will be going, officials said.
"This was always intended to be a temporary facility," said Michael Kharfen, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
After arriving at Fort Dix from camps in Macedonia, the refugees received medical checkups, security clearances and U.S. government documents.
"We have a lot of work to here to move refugees out to various communities," said Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
"The last time anything like this (resettlement program) happened was the big exodus of Vietnamese refugees," said Kay Bellor of the International Resettlement Community. "The extraordinary thing is we did it. The U.S. has not done something like this in many years, and we did it."
The United States has pledged to take in 20,000 Kosovo refugees through the summer. The others will go directly to sponsoring agencies or to live with relatives.
Voicing skepticism about the peace deal in Belgrade, some of the Fort Dix refugees worry about what lies ahead. Eventually, however, they must decide whether to stay in the United States or return to Yugoslavia. The United States will make either option possible.
Officially given refugee status, they can receive green cards to work in the United States, and apply for citizenship in one year.
"They'll be able to stay in the U.S. and become citizens if they want to. If they wish to go home, we will pay their way home," Shalala said.
Balkan family in New York opens home to 30 Kosovo refugees
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