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Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK

UK Politics

No limits on UK refugees

Buses take refugees from the Kosovo border to Macedonia

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw has refused to specify how many Kosovo refugees Britain will accept, but said there would be no upper limit.

He told the House of Commons the next flight bringing ethnic Albanians to the United Kingdom would arrive at Scotland's Prestwick airport on Sunday.

Kosovo: Special Report
Such flights would increase in frequency to up one a day, when about 1,000 refugees a week would be arriving in Britain.

Mr Straw would not estimate how long this process might continue or how many refugees it could bring.

"We have thought it wise from the start not to set either a minimum or a maximum limit, because the situation is changing.

"As we've seen in the last few days the situation on the ground is one that is changing all the time."

The BBC's Niall Dickson: Local authorities are preparing for the largest influx of refugees for a generation
The home secretary insisted Britain would be able to cope with the influx, however large it became. "It is our judgement that the facilities will be sufficient," he said.

Refugees who come to Britain will either be admitted as close family members of people already living in the UK, or given exceptional leave to remain for 12 months.

[ image: Tony Blair on a recent visit to a Macedonian refugee camp]
Tony Blair on a recent visit to a Macedonian refugee camp
This would ensure they had "a passport into the normal benefits system and the right to work", the home secretary said.

They would stay in all parts of the UK at a wide variety of forms of accommodation, including former service housing.

Local authorities and the voluntary sector would be reimbursed in full for any additional costs, the home secretary said.

Jack Straw: No upper limit has been set on the number of refugees which we shall take
Mr Straw detailed his plans to Parliament the day after he revealed Britain would accept about 1,000 refugees a week, in response to a question from Shadow Home Secretary Norman Fowler.

Mr Fowler said the Conservatives agreed the priority should be to make sure Kosovan refugees could be cared for in the region and called on the home secretary to send "all possible assistance" to Macedonia and Albania.

But Tory backbencher Alan Clark challenged Mr Straw over his concern that criminals may gain residence in Britain alongside genuine refugees.

The MP has alleged in the Commons that links exist between the Kosovo Liberation Army and organised crime, including drug smuggling.

Mr Straw said that was why "we have to resist those nave clarion calls that we should simply give anybody who turns up in this country claiming to be a Kosovan refugee status.

"We can't do that and the people who would be most undermined by that are the genuine refugees.

"Some of them don't have a well founded fear at all - they've made it up."

But Kosovans who arrived in the UK by their own means will still be able to apply for asylum in the usual way, he said.

Mr Straw added that he expected most refugees would return to Kosovo when the conflict there ended.

"The overwhelming evidence is that the vast majority of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo are desperate to return to their homes, from which they have been driven out by the vile ethnic cleansing of President Milosevic," he said.

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