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U.S. asks Jewish federations to help resettle Kosovar refugees

WASHINGTON, April 27 (JTA) — The U.S. government, criticized for refusing to open its doors to refugees during World War II, now wants Jewish federations to help take in Kosovar Albanians who have been forced from their homes. The Clinton administration has decided to accept 20,000 Kosovar refugees now living in Macedonian camps for resettlement in the United States. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, one of nine national agencies that resettle refugees, has agreed to help. “The Jewish community knows only too well the importance of assisting those who were forced to flee persecution, war’s devastation and displacement,” said Leonard Glickman, executive vice president of HIAS, which will channel federal money to the federations that participate in the Kosovar refugee program. The refugees from Kosovo must have a relative in the United States or a serious hardship in order to be eligible. The first group is scheduled to arrive in the United States in three weeks. Resettlement agencies will take in refugees on a rotating basis, Glickman said. Glickman said that it has not yet been determined how much the U.S. government will pay and the costs to local agencies. It’s up to individual Jewish federations, which will run the program locally, whether to participate. The State Department said there are large numbers of Albanians living in New York, Chicago, Detroit and Boston. According to HIAS, Binghamton, N.Y., also has a sizable Albanian population. Mark Handelman, executive vice president of the New York Association for New Americans, said his agency has already received calls from Albanian Americans who want to bring their relatives to the United Sates under the program “We have a real challenge,” Handelman said, referring to the strains placed on the refugees’ physical and emotional condition. In addition, programs must be established for children who will arrive as public schools close for the summer, he said. Under the rules of the program, the refugees can remain in the United States and pursue citizenship if they choose. While Jewish organizations in many larger cities have already resettled refugees from Bosnia and serve a large number of non-Jews, smaller federations like the one that serves Binghamton may be caught off guard. “It would be a community decision” to resettle Kosovars, said Eileen Kriegstein, director of Jewish Family Services for the Jewish Federation of Broome County, which has resettled only one family of Jews from the former Soviet Union during the past three years. “It’s a wonderful thought,” Kriegstein said, “but we are very small here.”