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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK


Kosovo appeal tops £20m

The first refugees will be women and children

In little more than a fortnight £20m has been raised by the 12 UK charities working together to help the Kosovo refugees.

Kosovo: Special Report
The nationwide appeal, called the Disasters Emergency Committee, was launched on 6 April and reached the milestone on Wednesday.

Organisers for the appeal - including the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Help The Aged, Oxfam, Save The Children and Tearfund - said the pace of people's donations showed no sign of slowing.

"We are still getting thousands of calls a day from people wanting to know how they can help," said spokesman Scott Swinton.

The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti reports: "Eighteen of the refugees need medical treatment"
"We ask them to keep it coming, it is an unfolding crisis, completely open-ended, and the need for aid is just going to continue."

The money has been raised as the first refugees from Kosovo are due to arrive in the UK.

[ image: The main criteria is that the refugees are medical cases]
The main criteria is that the refugees are medical cases
The UNHCR asked governments across Europe to lower their entry criteria for refugees to aid the humanitarian effort in the Balkans.

The UK had originally said that priority would be given to vulnerable people, those with medical needs and those with family ties in the UK.

But Jenny Watson, from the Refugee Council, said the government responded well to the crisis, with the usually strict asylum policy going "out of the window".

[ image: The ultimate aim is to send the refugees back]
The ultimate aim is to send the refugees back
However, the exact status of the refugees is not yet clear. It seems they will be granted "exceptional leave to remain", with the possibility of applying for asylum status once they are in the UK.

As a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, and the 1967 Protocol, the UK has an obligation to provide a safe haven "for those fleeing torture, persecution and death, regardless of their nationality".

The Home Office said the decision to accept the refugees was made following advice that they were "vulnerable and in need of temporary protection outside the region".

The refugees are coming to the UK in line with the following conditions:

  • their evacuation is voluntary
  • families are kept together as far as possible
  • priority be given to the most vulnerable and to refugees with special needs
  • the refugees must be fit to travel
  • any family links the refugee has with other countries should be considered
  • any refugees will be nominated by the UNHCR and then approved by the Home Office

Refugee Council Chief Executive Nick Hardwick said: "We very much welcome the UK Government's decision to take in some of the Kosovar refugees currently in Macedonia in response to the request from UNHCR.

"It is important that the UK Government responds as generously as possible, ensures families are kept together and where possible allows Kosovar refugees to be reunited with relatives in the UK.

Unused buildings

"Our response has to focus on the crisis in the region and must not be driven by political considerations in the UK."

Refugees will initially be housed in temporary reception centres, staffed by the Refugee Council. It will be liaising with local authorities through the Local Government Association on where that accommodation should be.

The LGA, which was asked by the government two weeks ago to start identifying suitable accommodation, has a database of 3,000 possible unused buildings across England and Wales that might be used.

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