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Sunday, April 4, 1999 Published at 20:17 GMT 21:17 UK


UK opens door to Kosovo refugees

Refugees gather at the Kosovo/Macedonia border

The UK has said it will take in refugees fleeing the violence in Kosovo as part of a global effort to stem the humanitarian crisis.

Jack Straw: "We will play our full part in taking the refugees"
Home Secretary Jack Straw told BBC One's evening news: "We've already taken almost10,000 refugees from Kosovo,the second-highest number ofany of our EU partners, and westand ready to take somethousands more."

Tony Blair had warned earlier that bringing in refugees across Europe would be a "policy of despair" and play into the hands of Serbia's President Milosovic.

Kosovo: Special Report
Prime Minister Tony Blair had warned earlier that bringing in refugees across Europe would be a "policy of despair" and play into the hands of Serbia's President Milosovic.

He pointed to the one million refugees from the former Yugoslavia already in the EU who would probably never go home.

Ben Brown in Macedonia: "At last there is hope for these desperate refugees"
But the government insisted there had been no U-turn as the refugees would only be in Europe temporarily.

The announcement came after it emerged that more and more countries were opening their doors to the refugees trapped at Kosovo's borders in squalid conditions.

BBC's Paul Wood: "For some refugees, the help has come too late"
A Downing Street spokesman said: "Our top priority is to get these refugees back to their homes and enable them to rebuild their lives in a secure environment.

"The immediate requirement is to provide food and shelter."

[ image: Tony Blair: Warning on refugees]
Tony Blair: Warning on refugees
Nato announced that Germany would take 40,000 refugees, along with Greece (5,000), Norway (6,000), Turkey (20,000), Canada (5,000) and the US (20,000).

But spokesman Jamie Shea stressed that Nato's aim was for refugees to return to a "democratic, peaceful, multi-ethnic Kosovo".

A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the initiatives were welcomed, and that the massive relief operation could be "starting to turn a corner".

Labour MP Ann Clwyd said: "I'm very pleased at this news. I think it's essential that we make this kind of response.

[ image: Food is scarce for the refugees]
Food is scarce for the refugees
"I'm sure the right place for the people is in their own homes if they could only stay there, but the situation now is so desperate."

Tory international development spokesman Gary Streeter said he would support the move to take in refugees, but criticised the government for a lack of co-ordination.

He said: "The problem is that the prime minister's rhetoric suggests he is controlling it but other people are making the decisions - Clinton and others.

"We want a steady hand on the tiller at this time. It seems we are not getting it."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs and defence spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "Temporary accommodation of refugees here in Britain is a moral obligation from which we should not shrink."

Aid effort

Two planes carrying aid to help refugees fleeing from Kosovo left the UK on Sunday, along with a Hercules transporter plane.

It is carrying medical supplies and a six-strong reconnaissance team, which will assess what help is needed in the long term.

Clare Short: "We've got to get some movement and get the people cared for"
Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, has travelled to Albania for discussions about the refugee crisis.

Speaking on Sunday night after talks with government officials in Skopje she said agreement had been reached for the immediate transfer of 10,000 stranded Kosovar Albanians to a new refugee centre in northern Macedonia.

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that newspaper accusations that Nato should have foreseen the scale of the refugee crisis in Kosovo were unfounded.

Mr Cook said: "I do not think that decent civilised person could have been expected to see that anybody would behave with the barbarity and brutality [President Milosevic] has."

But former Irish prime minister John Bruton: "He is wrong. The present refugee crisis was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen. It is profoundly dishonest to pretend otherwise."

Scottish appeal's success

A UK charity appeal for the refugees will be taking donations after the success of a Scottish appeal which raised £50,000 on its first day.

Set up by seven Scottish charities and supported by Kwik-Fit, the depots took in more than 5,00 bags of clothing and 7,000 bags of canned food.

From Tuesday people will be able to donate across the UK at Kwik-Fit's 700 depots.

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