Albanians Hope To Bring In Kin

Posted: April 30, 1999

Her sister is safe.

But Merita Raifi, an Albanian immigrant living in Roxborough, doesn't know where her parents and brother are.

She doesn't know whether they are alive or dead.

Raifi, 35, has been worried sick since the war began more than a month ago in Yugoslavia.

She received a call last week from her distraught sister, Lulzime Sahiti, who fled her hometown of Presevo during a Serb attack and walked 18 hours straight to the Macedonian border. Sahiti is staying with an Albanian family in Skopje because there is no room in the refugee camps.

Yesterday, Raifi signed an application at the Nationalities Service Center in Center City to bring her sister to Philadelphia. She is one of at least a dozen local Albanian families who have taken advantage of the newly announced opportunity to bring over family members who have lost their homes due to ethnic cleansing by Serb forces.

If her application is approved, Sahiti will be one of 20,000 Albanian refugees allowed to come to the United States to stay with relatives. Late last week, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement announced the emergency evacuation as a way to alleviate the burden in refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia.

The U.S. government is being generous by quickening the process of bringing the refugees over, allowing immigrants to sponsor more distant relatives, and by giving the refugees more permanent immigration status, said Tsegaye Arrefe, a caseworker at the Nationalities Service Center. Local immigrants can apply not only for children and spouses, but also for parents and cousins and nieces and nephews. But they must know their relatives' address.

Arrefe said he expects the refugees to arrive in less than a month. Usually, it takes about six months for local immigrants to bring relatives here, Arrefe said.

Raifi, a supermarket cashier, hasn't seen her 33-year-old sister since before coming to this country 12 years ago. Her husband, who works in construction, applied to bring over his cousin, his wife and twin 4-year-olds, who are staying with Sahiti.

They are grateful to the United States to be able to bring their relatives over. But they are still worried about their other relatives.

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