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Sunday, May 9, 1999 Published at 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK


Scots offer sanctuary to refugees

The first plane load of refugees touched down on Sunday

Scotland has received its first consignment of refugees from the Kosovo crisis.

Kosovo: Special Report
One of two planes carrying the first of 320 Kosovo Albanians touched down at Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire just before 1400 BST on Sunday.

The second plane is due at 2210 BST. Both groups of refugees were being held in Macedonian transit camps.

High-rise flats in the Springburn area of Glasgow, which were formerly inhabited by students, have been made available to accommodate the refugees. Others will be put up in nearby Renfrew.

The BBC's Mark Connolly in Glasgow: "Most of the refugees are apparently in a good physical condition"
Social workers and medical staff are on stand-by to deal with the inevitable culture shock, and 30 interpreters have been sent from London.

The first plane load of about 145 refugees, who were mainly women and children, included a 10-week-old baby and a 99-year-old woman.

Children clutched toys while their parents carried plastic bags containing the few possessions they had brought with them.

Medical teams tended to the refugees during the three-and-a-half hour flight, but none needed to go to hospital after the plane landed.

Generous Scots

About nine of them were reported to be expecting to be reunited with members of their families in the UK.

Shortly after the flight arrived, Scottish Refugee Council worker Sheena MacDonald, who travelled with the refugees, spoke of their heart-rending experiences.

She described the tears of refugees as they said farewell to their families before boarding buses to take them to the plane, and also of their relief as escaping of the squalor and deprivation of the transit camp where they had been staying.

[ image: Food in short supply at transit camps in Albania]
Food in short supply at transit camps in Albania
"This morning we started to get people onto buses to take them to the airport and people were very upset," she said.

"In particular there was one family who were making a decision to leave behind some of their extended family to come to Scotland today and it was very distressing.

"When the buses left people were throwing their coats off to relatives and friends they were leaving behind and lifting up small children so people could touch them and say goodbye for what some thought would be the last time.

'Absolute hell'

"The people are very, very tired and exhausted but also very, very happy to be getting out of the camps and when we landed at Prestwick the people on the plane actually clapped.

"Anybody who has come on the flight today has lost somebody.

"These people are human beings who have been through absolute hell and we are in desperate need of more staff for the camps in Macedonia and more aid as well - some people haven't eaten properly for over a month because food rations are very sparse."

She said people in the camps had no possessions and some of them were sleeping on bare earth inside the tents and having to wash in a river.

Brits in Balkans
"We spoke to one woman who was literally having to rip up T-shirts to make a nappy for a child who was born in the camp."

Refugees were glad to be out of the camps but saw their time in Scotland as a short-term situation, Ms MacDonald added.

Two more flights, each containing 160 refugees, are due to arrive in Prestwick later in the week.

Charities, companies and individuals have offered help and donations including clothing, food and toiletries.

The UK Government has funded the conversion of the flats, which will be handed back to Glasgow City Council when the refugees eventually return home.

Accommodation is scarce in Scotland but a Scottish Office spokeswoman denied rumours that Kosovo refugees would end up being housed in disused prisons.

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