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Friday, April 2, 1999 Published at 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK


UK mission assesses refugees' plight

Aid organisations are struggling to cope with the crisis

Britain is sending an aid mission to Albania and Macedonia to assess the worsening refugee crisis and find the best way to help the homeless Kosovo Albanians.

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The countries bordering Kosovo say they have been overwhelmed by a sea of refugees. Latest estimates say more than 600,000 people - around a third of the population of Kosovo - is on the move.

The six-strong mission, which will arrive on Sunday, will be made up of representatives of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Ministry of Defence.

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"They will look specifically at the immediate and potential needs of the refugees," said a DFID spokesman.

The United Nations estimates more than 180,000 refugees have crossed into Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro in the last 10 days.

Although relief for the Kosovo Albanians is being provided by the United Nations, governments and aid organisations, time and money appear to be running out.

[ image: The registration of refugees is slowing the aid process]
The registration of refugees is slowing the aid process
"We are struggling to cope. The relief operation is on the verge of being overwhelmed," said a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Aid from the UK has been reaching the region since UK Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged £10m to help the Kosovo Albanians.

An RAF Hercules carrying 200 tents and 2,500 blankets arrived in the Macedonian capital on Friday morning and 42 tonnes of tents and blankets were flown out by the DFID last week.

Airlift aid

Two aircraft from Oxfam carrying humanitarian aid are also headed for the region.

The DFID is funding a number of airlifts to enable UNHCR, the World Health Organisation and other agencies to send relief and supplies to the refugees.

These include a flight from Kent International Airport to Tirana and another from Pisa, Italy to the Macedonian capital, Skopje on Saturday.

A £500,000 contribution has been made to the British Red Cross for immediate relief supplies while other grants include Oxfam (£300,000), Save the Children (£300,000) and Children's Aid Direct (£102,000).

British troops in Macedonia will be providing temporary tented accommodation for about 2,000 people where it was most urgently needed.

Relief system slowed

But the relief system is being slowed by a logjam at the border with Macedonia. Aid workers have to register each refugee, because each person leaving Kosovo is being stripped of their identification papers by the Serbs.

Aid from other countries has also been contributing to the relief effort. The US is supplying goods and financial aid, Italy is supplying tents and Norway, Sweden and Denmark are sending other vital supplies.

Money and trucks are arriving from Japan, Greece is offering mobile hospitals and the World Food Programme is taking care of supplying food.

The UK mission will fly to the Albanian capital Tirana from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, England.

'Recall Parliament'

A Labour MP requested that Parliament be recalled by Sunday because of the escalating crisis in Kosovo.

Parliamentary Human Rights Group Chairwoman Ann Clywd said next week's Easter holiday should be cut short for MPs because they "need to be assured that the humanitarian effort is being rapidly speeded up".

The Cynon Valley MP, who believes that ground troops should be sent in to Kosovo, said she had taken many calls from concerned constituents.

"This is a bad situation," she said. "The charities say the crisis is out of control and people are using words like `catastrophe'.

"I think it's that urgent and the fact that the public is reacting in this way as well gives us all cause for concern."

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