Refugees say Britain 'does not want us'

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister was urged yesterday to address the pleas of Kosovo refugees eager to seek asylum in the UK when he makes a statement to MPs next week on the crisis.

The call came from the Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who told the House she had met dispossessed people in camps across Macedonia who had been told Britain did not want them, despite selecting it as their first-choice destination.

Mr Blair is due to address the House on Monday after attending a Nato summit in Washington and meeting President Bill Clinton.

Raising the issue during questions on forthcoming parliamentary business, Ms Clwyd asked the Commons Leader, Margaret Beckett, if the Prime Minister would talk about the refugees' plight in his statement, particularly as there were many Britons keen to take them into their homes.

"When I was in the camps in Macedonia last week, refugees were telling me that they had put down Norway in one instance as their first choice of country to go to, Germany in the second instance, but both of them would have preferred to come to Britain," said Ms Clwyd, MP for Cynon Valley. "They have been told that in fact Britain didn't want them. I found that a very worrying statement indeed and I don't know whether it is true or not. But so far we have only been told that 250 Kosovo refugees are coming to this country."

Ms Clwyd told MPs: "I have had several phone calls from members of the public who believe that we should be far more generous and indeed are willing to offer accommodation themselves. I think that is the will of the people in Britain. They want us to throw our arms open to these refugees who through no fault of their own are not able to stay in their own homes and will not be able to return to their own homes in the foreseeable future."

Mrs Beckett accepted there was a great deal of sympathy across the House and across the country for refugees. "The Government has had a couple of approaches from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on behalf of families in particularly difficult circumstances," she said. "This country has given a great deal of help and support, and faster and more efficiently than many others, to help people survive in the area of Kosovo itself.

"Although there may indeed be some individuals who are seeking to come either to this country or to others, the great bulk of those who are sadly refugees do continue to express the view that what they want is to go back to their homes in Kosovo. What we are anxious to do and what most of the refugee effort is geared to is giving people all the help and support we can now, and maintaining them in the [safe] areas so that they can more readily return to their homes as that becomes possible."

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, challenged the Government to say whether local authorities would be given special grants to be able to cope with the long-term demands of the refugees.