Straw: Most Kosovo Albanians have no basis for asylum and must go back

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The Independent Online

Eighteen Kosovar refugees put in last-minute applications to remain in Britain yesterday in order to avoid a deadline to leave the country.

Eighteen Kosovar refugees put in last-minute applications to remain in Britain yesterday in order to avoid a deadline to leave the country.

The Kosovars, who fled to Britain at the height of the Nato bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, had been told to leave by yesterday or face possible deportation.

As of Friday, 2,396 of the 4,346 Kosovars who arrived during the conflict had returned, while 1,932 had already applied for extended leave to remain or were seeking asylum. Until the process is exhausted they cannot be forcibly repatriated.

The remainder had been threatened with appropriate enforcement measures "as soon as is practicable". The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, however, has been keen to avoid forceable deportations.

A Home Office spokeswoman said yesterday: "We have now got applications for extended stay for all and none are facing imminent removal action."

The Refugee Council had appealed to the Government to avoid enforced repatriations, in order to set an example to other European countries which were considering large-scale expulsions. Switzerland, Germany and Australia have all started deporting Kosovan refugees.

The council highlighted the conclusions of a report by a British parliamentary delegation to Kosovo, which warned that unco-ordinated large-scale returns could disrupt the international programme to rebuild Kosovo after the conflict.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees fears an influx of thousands of families to a province with no infrastructure to sustain them. However, the chances of any of the Kosovo Albanians being allowed to remain in Britain appear slim.

"We led a huge humanitarian exercise in order to save the Kosovo Albanians... In addition to that, European countries organised an evacuation programme, in which we participated, and quite a number came into this country, as a temporary expedient, to help people who were in serious need," said Mr Straw yesterday.

"The understanding was that they would get permission [to stay] for a year, and if political rights were restored in Kosovo to the Kosovo Albanians they would have to go back. Now we have kept to our side of the bargain, and we look to the Kosovo Albanians here to stick to their side of the bargain. Overwhelmingly, these people have no basis whatever for asylum and they need to go back."

Police representatives from across Europe, including Bob Packham, the National Crime Squad deputy director general, will meet at the Europol headquarters in The Hague today to consider how to combat thetrade in illegal immigrants, following the deaths of 58 Chinese people found in a lorry at Dover.