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Monday, April 5, 1999 Published at 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK


UK awaits refugees' arrival

The refugees desperately need housing, food and medicine

The UK is preparing for an influx of thousands of refugees who will be flown to emergency housing in an effort to stem the humanitarian crisis in eastern Europe.

BBC's Paul Wood: "For some refugees, the help has come too late"
More than 100,000 people are expected to be taken by air, land and sea to temporary homes in Nato countries well away from the conflict.

It is thought the refugees bound temporarily for Britain will be staying in council houses and disused army barracks.

Jack Straw: "We face a terrible humanitarian disaster"
Home Secretary Jack Straw declined to say how many refugees would be heading for the UK, but said the government would not be skimping on the cost of helping the victims of "a terrible humanitarian disaster".

"We've already taken almost 10,000 refugees from Kosovo, the second-highest number of any of our EU partners, and we stand ready to take some thousands more," he said.

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 Milosevic.

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"
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: Macedonia may have agreed to a refugee sanctuary within its borders]
Macedonia may have agreed to a refugee sanctuary within its borders
Two planes carrying aid to help the refugees in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro left the UK on Sunday, along with a Hercules transporter plane.

The Hercules was 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, Macedonia, she said agreement had been reached for the immediate transfer of 10,000 stranded Kosovo Albanians to a new refugee centre in northern Macedonia.

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).

Robin Cook: "We're willing to play a part in sharing the burden"
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".

Bosnian conflict refugees

And British Refugee Council spokeswoman Rachel Reece said: "We would urge the government to be as generous as possible.

British Refugee Council's Rachel Reece: "Be generous and do it quickly"
"The three countries at the moment supporting the refugees who have escaped Kosovo conflict are the three poorest in Europe. We really cannot afford to leave them to do it on their own."

The last time Britain took in large number of refugees was during the Bosnian conflict.

Five thousand people were housed in reception centres in areas such as the Midlands, Derby and West Yorkshire for three months.

They were then moved to more permanent accommodation and were given permission by the government to stay permanently in 1997.

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