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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK


UK hits back at refugee criticism

This Kosovo refugee was delighted to land at East Midlands

The UK Government has rejected criticism from a German politician that it is not taking in enough Kosovo refugees.

Brits in Balkans
About 320 ethnic Albanians have been flown to the UK in two airlifts since the Nato bombing began. Germany has volunteered to take 10,000 and may double that figure.

Peter Struck, chief whip in the German parliament for the Social Democrats, said he found the British attitude to the refugees "incredible" and added that Germany would not take in any more refugees until other EU countries helped to share the burden.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: "Our record on this is excellent and one which the country can be proud of. This criticism is unfounded."

He pointed out that the UK had already committed about £30m to provide immediate aid in the area and British troops had probably done "more than any other country" to provide security for people in the region.

He added that the UK had also made clear it would accept "some thousands" of refugees who wanted to come to the UK, on top of the some 10,000 who had come over the last year.

"Everyone is clear that whatever happens, these refugees will go home. We will reverse this policy of 'ethnic cleansing' and ensure they can go home in security," he said.

Horror stories

A second group of Kosovo refugees arrived in the UK on Thursday, recounting traumatic stories of the flight from their homeland.

The BBC's Sadaf Manuf: "All they really want is for the war to end"
The group of 169 refugees was airlifted from the crowded Stankovic camp in Skopje, Macedonia and flew into East Midlands airport.

The first to emerge from the three-and-a-half hour journey on the Tupolev 154 plane was a young mother with a baby in her arms.

Close behind, an elderly man with a walking stick took more than a minute to cover the 20 yards to a waiting bus.

Just after landing, some of the travellers told a news conference about the difficulties they had endured in the weeks leading up to the airlift.

Remzije Sadiku, a 33-year-old journalist from Pristina, told of her relief to be on safe ground away from the camp in Stankovic, where 50,000 refugees are living without sanitation.

[ image: The first person off the plane was a woman with a baby]
The first person off the plane was a woman with a baby
She told how she had been forced out of her home by seven armed Serbian police officers as she watched the afternoon news on television.

She spent four weeks at the Macedonian camp and had not had the chance to have a shower or wash.

"If I stopped over there any longer I fear I would have gone mentally ill or succumbed to an infection," she said.

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher: "One frail elderly lady had to be helped down the steps"
She said she was relieved to be in Britain where the people were "honest and good".

Other stories included that of a man whose fiancée could not board the same plane and was instead bound for Denmark.

Aid workers say the group, who all volunteered to come to the UK and were chosen because they are particularly vulnerable or ill, or have relatives in the UK, are considered the "lucky few" in the camp.

[ image: One small refugee is helped by a member of airport staff]
One small refugee is helped by a member of airport staff
The refugees were welcomed by social workers, translators and airport staff on landing, before being taken to two reception centres in Leicester and Alfreton, Derbyshire.

The Derbyshire-bound group will be staying in Stretton House, a former residential special school set in 18 acres of parkland near Alfreton.

A number of toys including teletubbies and teddybears had been donated to the centre by the local community.

The group will also have access to the Internet, and trips to Alton Towers and the seaside may be organised.

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