Leading Article: Britain's inadequate response to the Balkan refugee crisis

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The Independent Culture
THE ARRIVAL of 161 Kosovar refugees at Leeds airport is a welcome start. But it is still a very long way from the Government's promise of taking in 10,000 refugees from the Balkan conflict. This airlift from Macedonia must be swiftly followed by others; whereas Germany has already taken nearly 10,000 refugees, Britain's efforts so far have been grossly inadequate.

Germany's speed in taking in refugees is not just a response to its misdeeds in the Second World War. The Germans recognise that the Kosovar people have suffered murder, rape, arson and exile, and that 600,000 of them are still living in appalling conditions in overcrowded camps. Britain and France have been slow to take in Kosovars, in part because of specious arguments that sheltering refugees furthers the desire of the Yugoslav regime to expel Kosovo's Albanian-speaking majority.

Giving refuge to the most vulnerable of the Kosovars is the right thing to do. By removing 100,000 people from the immediate vicinity of the conflict, the international community eases the pressure on poor countries with over-stretched resources. Furthermore, the relations between Slavs and Albanians in Montenegro and, particularly, Macedonia are already difficult. It would be disastrous to both Nato's tactics and its aims if these countries collapsed under the human tidal wave that has hit their shores. And with a ground war becoming increasingly likely, people must be removed from the borders of Kosovo where they run a risk of being caught up in the conflict.

Many of the Kosovars who will come to the UK will be desperate to return to the mountains and valleys of their own country. They will want to return not just from sentiment but also to resume possession of their farmland.

However, there is no need to deny that some of those who come to this country will never leave. Some will have nothing to return to in Kosovo: their families will have been killed; their livelihoods will have been destroyed.

The Kosovars who come here will form connections in Britain. Men and women will fall in love. Kosovars educated here will become integrated into the local population. Britain is already a multi-ethnic and, in the main, tolerant society. There is every reason to believe that a European community, albeit a Muslim one, should fit in easily in this country.

British people have shown, through their generous donations to this newspaper and other appeals for charity, that they are keen to help the refugees. For those who do want to return - and they may well be the majority - the best solution is to retake Kosovo as quickly as possible, whatever it takes. Although Britain has not caused the crisis, it has a moral responsibility to help solve it. There is no reason why we should not take thrice 10,000.