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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK

UK Politics

UK to take 'thousand refugees a week'

Refugee camps around Kosovo are becoming overcrowded

All parts of the United Kingdom will shelter Kosovan refugees who will be accepted at a rate of about 1,000 a week, Home Secretary Jack Straw has announced.

Kosovo: Special Report
He told a news conference no upper limit would be put on the total number of refugees who might come to Britain.

So far, the UK has accepted only 330 refugees from the Kosovo conflict. This has drawn criticism from countries such as Germany, which has taken more than 10,000.

This is the first time the UK Government has indicated how many refugees it would be prepared to take. More than half a million people have fled Kosovo since the Nato bombardment began.

The BBC's Nicholas Jones: A refugee flight could be arriving every day of the week
Mr Straw declined to specify where the first wave of refugees would be housed, saying: "All areas of the country may expect to receive flights and care for refugees.

"One of the very moving things about this has been the reception the refugees that have come here so far have been given by local communities."

[ image: Jack Straw: Britain will take up to 1,000 refugees a week]
Jack Straw: Britain will take up to 1,000 refugees a week
No ceiling would be placed on the number of refugees accepted by Britain because it remained hard to judge the situation in and around Kosovo.

"We have never believed we should establish a quota because the situation in Macedonia and Albania and the whole of Kosovo is an evolving one," he said.

Mr Straw also stressed the assistance Britain was providing to refugees on the ground in camps in Macedonia, Albania and other neighbouring countries.

Nick Hardwick from the Refugee Council: "Of course we can cope, the real problem is back in Kosovo"
Home Office staff were being sent to the Balkans to help the UNHCR - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - process the displaced people, he said.

The Home Office later said it was expecting to be receiving a plane load of refugees a day within the next two weeks.

Two flights are expected to land on Sunday and several more next week, each holding around 160 people.

Brits in Balkans
Refugee Council Chief Executive Nick Hardwick said he was confident Britain could cope if it accepted large numbers of Kosovans.

When the conflict had ended, most would go home. "Their hearts are still in Kosovo and they want to go back there as quickly as possible," he said.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell welcomed the announcement by the home secretary.

"We'd begun to look a little mean-minded and, in the eyes of some of our allies, as if we were not pulling our weight," he said.

His own visits to refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania had convinced him those who had fled Kosovo could not remain there indefinitely.

"There's no doubt whatsoever if you go and visit these refugees, you realise the degree of overcrowding is such you have to make some other arrangements."

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