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Tuesday, April 20, 1999 Published at 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK

UK Politics

Kosovo refugees to arrive in UK

A total of 600,000 refugees have left Kosovo in the past month, Nato say

The first refugees from Kosovo are to arrive in the UK this week, Home Secretary Jack Straw has announced.

Kosovo: Special Report
The news follows a letter from UNHCR representatives in London to the Home Office calling for entry criteria for refugees to be lowered.

The Home Office said 120 people, mainly women and children, were expected this week.

They were also expecting a request from the UN to take another 18 medical cases with 121 dependants later.

Jack Straw: "We only received this request today and we responded immediately"
Under the plans, people will arrive through a variety of airports and will be placed in reception centres "across the UK".

Mr Straw said: "We will defeat the policy of ethnic cleansing.

"Then these people can go back home. That is what they want. That is what Nato will achieve."

[ image: 120 refugees are to arrive in the UK this week]
120 refugees are to arrive in the UK this week
The UNHCR letter says the existing criteria for applicants is too rigid given the current problem.

The existing criteria calls for applicants to be able to show they have family in the UK.

A UNHCR spokeswoman said that they have 26 families - about 180 individuals - in Macedonia who say they have links in Britain, and whom they would like to place here.

Brits in Balkans
But she has only been able to trace a contact here for six of them because others are either too traumatised or left their homes too quickly to be able to provide enough details.

The BBC's Reeta Chakrabati reports: "Eighteen of the refugees need medical treatment"
The government has yet to put a figure on how many refugees it will receive.

However, Prime Minister Tony Blair has repeatedly insisted that the UK is ready and willing to help the international situation.

Cash is till flooding in to the UK appeal to help the Kosovo refugees and now totals £18m.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, made up of 12 leading charities, said the amount the appeal had raised as it entered its third week was "unprecedented".

The situation for the displaced people of Kosovo remains grim. Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said on Tuesday that a total of 600,000 refugees have left Kosovo in the past month and another 100,000 are expected to do so in the next few days.

Mr Shea said Yugoslav army units in Montenegro appeared to have begun ethnic cleansing on the Montenegran side of the border with Kosovo in a "new and distressing" development.

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