War in the Balkans: 259 Kosovar refugees to arrive in Britain next week

BRITAIN IS to receive its first Kosovar Albanian refugees amid controversy over whether the Government is doing enough to take its share of those displaced by Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing.

It was announced yesterday that the first group will arrive in Britain early next week and will consist of 259 of those deemed to be especially vulnerable, those needing medical care and their families. But the Labour MP Ann Clwyd claimed in the House of Commons yesterday that during a recent visit to Macedonia she had discovered that refugees "have been told" that they were unwanted in Britain.

She maintained that people in the UK wanted a "far more generous" attitude about numbers from the Government.

"When I was in the camps I was told by the refugees that they had put down Norway in one instance and Germany in another. In both these cases they would have preferred to come to Britain."

The Overseas Development Administration confirmed that there has been a significant response to its appeal for accommodation from both public and commercial bodies and from private individuals. Already more than 3,000 places have been offered across the country to the refugees.

The arrivals in Britain follow a request by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The refugees will include 120 very elderly, single women with children and others suffering from war trauma. There will also be 18 Kosovar refugees who are in need of hospital treatment and 121 of these refugees' dependents.

They will be put up in large reception centres and, if necessary, hotels.

Efforts will be made to place the families of the patients near the hospitals where they are to be treated.

The Refugee Council, which had been asked by the Home Office to find accommodation for the Kosovars, said that the specific locations still had not been settled. The refugees will be housed on a temporary basis with a stay period of about two months in mind.

The United States has said that it will take in 20,000 Kosovars who are now in refugee camps in the Balkans and EU countries have so far agreed to take 80,000 of them.

The British Government, however, has not expanded on the "several thousand" that it said it was prepared to accept in the early days of the crisis.

British aid officials are working in refugee camps on the Kosovo border to try to rebuild the province's society before any ethnic Albanians have even returned home.

Kosovar political leaders and professional are being identified in the camps and consulted about plans for reconstructing Kosovan government and society once the Serb forces have been driven out by Nato, the Secretary of State for International Development,Clare Short, said yesterday.