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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK

World: Europe

Refugees arrive in Germany

About 600 refugees were flown to Germany on Wednesday night

By Terry Stiastny in Berlin

The first airlift of refugees from Kosovo arrived at Nuremberg airport - 60 people altogether, 50 of them women and children, many of them ill and needing to be helped from the plane.

Kosovo: Special Report
Those most in need of medical help were the first to be brought here on flights from the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

Almost 600 more people arrived on further flights early on Thursday. Germany has agreed to accept 10,000 refugees from Kosovo in total, although that figure is far less than the 40,000 originally suggested.

Much of the debate about the refugee question has centred on whether it is better to allow refugees to come to Western Europe, or whether doing so would make their expulsion from Kosovo permanent.

Last resort

Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily said that politically it was better for people to stay within the Balkans region, in order that they could return home when it was possible.

[ image: Families boarded German airforce planes at Petrovec Airport near Skopje]
Families boarded German airforce planes at Petrovec Airport near Skopje
"If we move people to countries further away," he said, "there is a danger that there will be a de facto result which is not our political intention and is not in the interests of the people themselves."

He and other European interior ministers who met to discuss the problem see large-scale evacuation of refugees from the Balkans to Western Europe as a last resort. The European Union has agreed to provide 250 million euros of aid to refugees within the region.

But as well as the international discussions, there is a debate within Germany about the number of refugees the country should accept.

Financial fears

During the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s, Germany took in 350,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Although many of them have been encouraged to return home, a third of those refugees are still living in Germany.

[ image: Some were flown to Hamburg where medical attention was at hand]
Some were flown to Hamburg where medical attention was at hand
Many people in the regional governments which are responsible for looking after refugees and asylum-seekers believe that they should not have to bear the burden of helping these people in the long term.

Dr Kuno Boese, the deputy interior minister for Berlin's local government, explained: "During the Bosnian conflict, Berlin alone took in more refugees than France, Great Britain and Belgium put together. We're still having enormous difficulties getting them to go back home. Some of them say that they've been in Berlin so long now that they won't go back."

He also says that Berlin, as a big city, had an attraction for refugees - and that the city can't afford the costs involved.

Fair shares

This time, Germany's regional governments have agreed to share the refugees between them, with the intention that the most people will go to the areas that can best afford them.

Two-thousand refugees will be flown to the southern state of Bavaria. The federal government has also agreed to contribute to the cost. The government has decided that people coming to Germany from Kosovo should have a limited stay here - no longer than three months.

Many people in Germany feel strongly that the country has a duty to help refugees in the immediate aftermath of the Kosovo crisis. One lobby organisation, Pro Asyl, has called on the government to allow over 100,000 Kosovo Albanians into the country.

But if the conflict continues, and if it seems likely that refugees are unable or unwilling to return home after the three-month stay they have been allotted, more people here may begin to question the refugees' right to remain in Germany.

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