Au pairs flock to Britain to escape war

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The Independent Online
AN AU PAIR agency is urgently seeking British families to place girls recruited from Croatian refugee camps writes David Connett. The Family Friend agency, based in Chiswick, west London, has placed nine girls from fifty registered with it in less than a week.

Marilyn Schroeder, the agency's co-director, who set the scheme up with her Croatian former au pair, Sabina Lajtman, said: 'There is a huge demand among girls wanting to come to Britain. Where once they might have gone to university they now find the university has been bombed or closed down. They see little or no future where they are and want a couple of years of civilisation in Britain.'

Mrs Schroeder said they were recruiting suitable girls irrespective of race. 'We will interview Croats, Bosnians and Serbs. Our attitude is that race doesn't matter if you happen to be in the middle of bombs landing.'

She said the Home Office had viewed the agency's work very sympathetically. 'Normally during a war the Home Office simply shuts its doors and says, 'You can't come here,' in case they disappear when they arrive. The Home Office told us all they need is a letter of invitation from the host family.' Au pairs must also register with the Department of Employment after arriving.

Mrs Schroeder said three representatives had been recruited in Croatia to vet the au pairs, who must provide two character references. 'They have been interviewing solidly in a chain of refugee camps in Croatia.' Those selected were invited to come to Britain by the families and interviewed a third time on arrival at Heathrow to determine their suitability.

Those selected are between 17 and 27 and are able to remain in Britain as au pairs for two years. The agency charges families pounds 150. They must also pay the au pairs a minimum of pounds 35 a week.

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