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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK


UK

UK Kosovo refugees 'glad to be safe'

Kosovan children take their first look at the UK from their aircraft window

The first Kosovo Albanian refugees to arrive in the UK since Nato's bombing campaign began are reportedly coping very well with their ordeal and have expressed gratitude to their hosts.


The BBC's Rageh Omaar saw the refugees fly out of Macedonia
The group of 161 people - mainly women and children - was taken to two former nursing homes in Leeds, West Yorkshire, after flying in from Macedonia on Sunday.

They underwent medical checks at a makeshift medical centre at the airport before moving on to the hostels. They will stay there until more permanent acccommodation can be found.

Kosovo: Special Report
The refugees have spent the last few weeks in appalling conditions at a refugee camp in northern Macedonia.

Rachel Rees, from the Refugee Council, said the nursing homes were a welcome contrast to the horrors they have endured back home.


[ image: The first refugees disembark in Leeds]
The first refugees disembark in Leeds
Last night, she said, many of the new arrivals were eager to have a hot shower.

"The conditions in the camps are appalling. There's a lot of mud and rain and many of the refugees arrived with just the clothes they were wearing, so they were glad of the opportunity to get clean.

"They had a hot meal provided by the people of Leeds and slept in warm, comfortable beds. They have left behind a huge tragedy and many of their loved ones.

"They were very quiet - but they were safe," she said.


Richard Wells in Leeds: A frightened little boy was the first to set foot in the UK
The group is believed to include 15 children under the age of two and 13 under the age of 12. They will be given new clothes, counselling and medical treatment if necessary.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees spokeswoman in the UK, Hope Hanlan, told the BBC the authorities have tried to keep families together and that all the refugees had volunteered to come to the UK.

Brits in Balkans
Ms Hanlon said: "Let us not forget that this is not a resettlement exercise. This is a temporary protection exercise."

Earlier, one of the refugees expressed his gratitude to the people of Britain.

Avni Gosalci, a 27-year-old, fled from Kosovo with his wife Anita, 25, and their two-month-old baby daughter Dielleza.


The BBC's John Thorne: "The refugees brought with them only meagre belongings"
He said he was relieved to be in the UK but was extremely concerned for the family he had left behind.

"We are very grateful for everything this country has done. Even in the camps, the British were very sensitive and helpful," said Mr Gosalci.

He said conditions in the refugee camps were catastrophic, with 25 people sharing a single tent.


[ image: Far from the horrors of the Balkans]
Far from the horrors of the Balkans
The Home Office has given them group exceptional leave to remain in the UK for 12 months and says they can apply for asylum.

They will be able to claim full welfare benefits or find work. Efforts will be made to help them trace relatives and place the children in local schools.

This is expected to be just the first wave of people to arrive from the crowded Macedonian camps.

The UNHCR said it would be submitting a request to the UK Government to receive a further 400 people in the next few days.





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