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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK


UK spearheads airlift to Albania

The UK Government says refugees must eventually go home

The UK is spearheading aid efforts into Albania as aid workers in the Balkans struggle to cope with the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
An RAF transport plane was among the first aid flights sent to Albania on Tuesday afternoon carrying 42 tonnes of supplies, including tents and blankets. Other supplies, such as emergency medical kits, will follow.

The RAF will also help airlift supplies from UNHCR warehouses elsewhere in Europe.

Peter Hunt reports on the refugee aid programme
The UK has agreed to provide, via the World Health Organisation, emergency health kits to cover the needs of 70,000 people for three months as part of a £10m aid package.

There will also be a donation of £500,000 to the Red Cross.

However, ministers insisted that refugees would not be brought to the UK because that would only be "giving in" to the so-called ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo.

Clare Short: "Substantial further assistance is needed for the refugees"
At a news conference, International Development Secretary Clare Short, said: "The refugees want help and support to survive and then to go home. That's what they want. If they don't go home, Milosevic has got what he wanted."

But Italy and Switzerland have said they are preparing for an extra influx of refugees.

Up to 250,000 people have flooded into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro which have called for aid for the refugees to be sent as soon as possible.

Worldwide help

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones speaks to Oxfam's Maurice Herson about their relief efforts
Italy is also supplying tents, the US is supplying goods and financial aid, while Norway, Sweden and Denmark are sending other vital supplies.

Japan is sending money and trucks and Greece is offering mobile hospitals.

The World Food Programme is taking care of supplying food, while non-governmental organisations are supplying medical aid.

More money needed

But more assistance is still desperately needed after a poor response to a the UNHCR's January appeal for donations from international governments.

"We can't manufacture aid out of thin air - we really need the governments' help," said a UNHCR spokeswoman.

The most difficult aspect of supplying aid was trying to anticipate the movements of the refugees in order to get supplies to them as quickly as possible.

"It's a brutal climate out there, and the longer it takes to get accommodation sorted, the more they suffer," she said.

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