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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK


UK

Britain's rough refuge



By BBC Radio 4's Bob Walker

Britain's decision to provide asylum for Kosovan Albanian refugees, is says Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the best of British traditions.

Brits in Balkans
But judging by the experience of some of those refugees already living in the country, this week's new arrivals could be in for a tougher time than they thought.

Around 70 are set to be housed at a former residential school in Derbyshire, where county council staff have been working hard to turn it into a home.


[ image: Derby county council: Prepared to do all it can]
Derby county council: Prepared to do all it can
Some of the refugees already have relatives in the UK, as several young men arrived last year after hiding in the back of lorries.

Claudio, for example, has been staying in a hostel in Derby. The accommodation is not ideal but he is grateful just to be in the UK.


Bob Walker assesses the refugees' future in Derby
"The government gives us food, a place to sleep, even a school if we want. We can go where we want and speak our own language. In my country, I can not speak my language (Albanian), and if we do not have an identity card, we are not free," he explains.

New hostility

But Claudio and his friends spend most of their days hanging around shopping centres.

They are not allowed to work yet and are not entitled to cash benefits. They also have no idea when their application for asylum will be processed.

Problems with the immigration service's computer, as well as an office move, have led to a huge backlog of work. But there are other problems, according to Shameen Khan, a solicitor specialising in immigration law.


[ image: Some refugees spend their days in a shopping centre]
Some refugees spend their days in a shopping centre
He says some of the Kosovars have suffered racist abuse. One man was even assaulted. He says many now want to move on.

"Some of my clients are saying: 'We were subjected to persecution in a war zone. We have now arrived in England where we are subjected to racist abuse and harassment.'"

"Obviously the situation is by no means comparable to that in Kosovo but they say that if they were allowed to live independently then they wouldn't be subjected to conditions in hostel accommodation," he explains.

Beyond material support

Many of those in Derby are still under the care of London boroughs even though they have been moved out of the capital.

Mr Khan says it is easier for those councils to keep them under one roof, even though some want to move.


[ image: Many refugees will need professional counselling]
Many refugees will need professional counselling
There is, at least, a support network in the city for asylum seekers: Derby Aid for Kosovo Group provides backup and also helps refugees abroad.

One of the workers, Gill Godwin, says the authorities must learn from the experiences of the first asylum seekers.

"These people were very traumatised and I am not sure there has been very much proactive help as far as mental health care is concerned."

"My concern is they will receive material help of a very basic kind but it will take them a long time to find their bearings and settle here," she says.



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