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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK


Refugees recount tales of terror

More refugees are set to arrive in the UK

Kosovo refugees have been recounting harrowing accounts of their plight to UK Home Secretary Jack Straw.

Brits in Balkans
Meeting those staying in Leeds, Mr Straw said he had been "very moved " to meet the refugees staying at a former care home in the city, and said their dignity and courage was "quite astonishing".

One refugee, geography teacher Fatmire Koqmezi, 28, told how she had been forced to leave her home in Pristina when Serb troops arrived.

She had been given just minutes to leave, or she would have been shot, she said.

"The soldiers were giving people just five or 10 minutes to leave their houses. It was a very difficult situation to be in.

"We were all put in one line to go towards the train station. Anyone who came out of line was shot," she said.

The BBC's Richard Wells: Mr Straw denied Labour had been slow to react
Miss Koqmezi, her parents and her brother all made it to Leeds, but she had not been able to contact other members of her family.

She said: "All the children were horrified by what's happening back in Kosovo. Now they are here they are safe and enjoying their childhood. I would like to thank Prime Minister Tony Blair for all the support we have been given."

Mr Straw spoke to a group of women who described how they had spent a month in no-man's-land not knowing what was going to happen to them - and a group of refugees who fled the country on a train.

[ image: The refugees have been through 'terrible deprivation']
The refugees have been through 'terrible deprivation'
They told how people were packed on to the train, with many being robbed, and of bodies lying by the railway line.

After meeting the 62 refugees - part of the group of 161 who arrived at Leeds-Bradford Airport nearly two weeks ago - Mr Straw said they had been through the "most terrible deprivation" that any group of people had been through this century.

"But they are here and still have their dignity, courage and humour as well", he said. "I have been very moved to have come here and see the dignity and courage of these people. It is quite astonishing."

'Traditional welcome'

Mr Straw greeted the refugees in Albanian and shook their hands before sitting down and playing with the children.

[ image: The refugees are settling in over here]
The refugees are settling in over here
The home secretary, a former Leeds University student, said he was not surprised at the way the refugees were settling into the city.

"The people of Leeds and West Yorkshire have given a very traditional welcome to these people", he said.

And he denied that the British Government had been slow in accepting refugees.

"We said at the beginning of April that we stood ready to take thousands of refugees. Because of the changes in circumstances on the borders we are to take even more.

"We have been working on contingency plans with the Refugee Council and its partners. I have already said that the programme will be accelerated in two or three weeks so that we will be taking 1,000 a week."

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