Leading Article: The refugees' trail must extend to the shores of Britain

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The Independent Culture
NOTHING COULD have prepared us for the horror of Slobodan Milosevic's attempt to drive out Kosovo's entire non-Serb population. He had done it before, to the Muslims in those parts of Bosnia claimed as Greater Serbia, but the whole point of Nato's bombing was to deter him from doing it again.

The first aim of Western policy, therefore, has failed. But that does not mean the policy was wrong. The alternative to threatening military action was to acquiesce in the slow "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo over a number of years. This way, the process is crushed into a few weeks, creating a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since the Second World War. Yes it is a disaster, but at the same time there is now more hope that the Albanian-speaking people of Kosovo will ultimately obtain protection, and that Milosevic and his fellow war criminals will be brought to justice.

The details of the systematic campaign of terror waged by the Serbian forces are chilling. James Dalrymple's account (on the front page of today's Independent) of the terrible suffering of the refugees on the border between Kosovo and Macedonia should be enough to convict the Serbian leadership of crimes against humanity. It is a description of the misery inflicted on only a few hundred of the tens of thousands of refugees. The deliberate policy of "identity elimination", in which Kosovar refugees are stripped of their papers while public records in the towns they have left are destroyed, is frightening.

Once the Kosovars have fled, of course, the difficulty of justly restoring the pre-existing state is multiplied several-fold. If a guaranteed peace can be brought to Kosovo - it could take months or years - the returning refugees will face all the problems of recovering property from crooks and impostors with which post-war Europe was familiar.

Meanwhile, however, it is the scale of the immediate disaster that should command our attention. The refugees who are queuing on the roads out of Kosovo or camped above the snow-line in Macedonia or huddled in camps and villages in Albania and Montenegro, urgently need food and shelter. Our moral obligation is even more pressing than in the case of natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch; it was the British Government's attempt to protect these people that provoked their enemies and forced them to head for the exits.

We have to feed, clothe and house them - by the roadsides and on the hillsides to start with. That is why we are asking our readers to give generously to the appeal on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee, co-ordinating 15 charities. And that is why the Government has to open Britain's doors to our share of the refugees. Our duty to the people of Kosovo extends much further than bombing their tormentors by remote control.