Amnesty protests at plan to deport Bosnian couple

REFUGEE groups have written in protest to the Home Secretary about resumed deportations of refugees fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Amnesty International claims plans to remove a Bosnian couple to Italy next week are in breach of the Government's obligations under the United Nations convention on refugees. Susannah Cox, the Refugee Council's spokeswoman, said yesterday: 'Such an action is . . . unacceptable in the face of one of the worst refugee crises since the war. Britain is deliberately turning its back on the sheer scale of the problem.'

Last month, the Government faced a political storm when it was revealed that Britain had sent at least 36 people from the former Yugoslavia to other European countries already overburdened by the crisis. Germany and other countries have absorbed more than 200,000 refugees, while Britain had accepted at that stage only 2,000.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, was criticised for rejecting a plea from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to relax asylum policy.

But since the furore refugee groups and lawyers reported that immigration officials did appear to be easing rules - only one extended family has been deported to Germany, where they had lived for the previous 18 months.

But the decision this week to deport Boris Zugic, a 28-year-old Serb, and his Muslim girlfriend, Belma Abdicevic, has prompted fears of a resumption in deportations. Although the couple had lived in Italy for nine months before coming to England, the refugee groups say Italy's policy towards Serbians may leave the couple in severe difficulties.

In his letter to Mr Clarke, Ken Ritchie, deputy director of the Refugee Council, says: 'It appears Italy has been admitting Serbs who have family or friends in Italy and others from the former Yugoslavia are being accommodated in camps which are ethnically segregated. Even if Mr Zugic were allowed to remain in Italy it would be unreasonable to expect him to stay with his partner in a Muslim camp.'

Amnesty's letter asks Mr Clarke to 'reconsider the decision to resume 'third country' removals'. David Bull, its director, says: 'It is not clear to Amnesty International how sending Yugoslav asylum seekers arriving in the UK back to countries where they have spent days, weeks or even months assists the efforts of UNHCR to resolve the current crisis.'

A Home Office spokesman said plans to deport the couple had been suspended while representations from their lawyer, Susan Sutovic, and the refugee groups were being considered.

Naheed Ejaz, 28, whose arrest pending deportation after living in England for eight years was reported in the Independent yesterday, has been released and re- united with her four English-born children pending a full hearing of her case in November.

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