BERLIN -- The huge numbers of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo are raising acute concerns in Western Europe about the potential arrival of tens of thousands of refugees in societies strained by high unemployment, sluggish growth and simmering resentment of foreigners.
Fearing a politically explosive influx, Germany said yesterday that Kosovo's Albanian outcasts should remain in the Balkans and stay outside "Western or Northern Europe."
In Germany, more than 4 million people, or in excess of 10 percent of the work force, are jobless, and 350,000 refugees poured in from Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war.
But France and Italy face similar problems and appear equally determined to ensure that the refugees do not move west.
Over time, aid officials said, the issue could drive a wedge between the United States and its European NATO partners because it illustrates, in blunt form, how broadly destabilizing the conflict is on the European continent while America has a large buffer, the Atlantic Ocean.
"We believe the refugees should remain as close to Kosovo as possible," German Deputy Foreign Minister Gunter Verheugen said yesterday during a brief visit to the Macedonian capital, Skopje.
"Our assumption is that we will soon achieve our political goal, and the refugees will be able to return to Kosovo."
He added that "acceptance of the refugees into Western or Northern Europe" would send "a completely false signal."
A policy of zero acceptance of refugees appeared fraught with danger for the Balkans.
It will mean that fragile states, with scant resources and, in the case of Macedonia, a tenuous balance of ethnic groups, will be subjected to enormous new social pressures if the refugees are unable to return soon.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer chaired a conference yesterday in Bonn on the plight of the refugees.
Pub Date: 4/02/99