War In The Balkans: British aid response is the most generous in history

Relief Effort
Click to follow
AID AGENCIES said yesterday that the response of the British public to the plight of refugees in Kosovo was unprecedented in the history of disaster relief.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which co- ordinates relief appeals for 12 leading charities, said that the pounds 30m raised in a month had been beyond all expectations.

The figure matches the combined total raised for the last three disaster relief funds - Sudan, Bangladesh and Hurricane Mitch. It is expected to overtake the previous largest total fund of pounds 37m, raised in six months for the victims of the civil war in Rwanda in 1994.

As Scotland prepared to receive 300 Kosovo refugees on Sunday, the Local Government Association said that authorities all over Britain were being "inundated" with offers of spare rooms, caravans and holiday homes for refugees.

Scott Swinton, of the DEC - which is also administering The Independent's Kosovo appeal - said: "It is absolutely phenomenal. There is so much public support out there. We still get upwards of 1,000 calls a day and cheques keep coming in."

Yesterday, the Refugee Council moved to dispel fears raised in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the evacuees could include gangsters and racketeers. Former Conservative minister Alan Clark warned of a "very high criminal influx" and said "enormous damage" could potentially be caused by drugs and prostitution rings. And yesterday Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that Albanian criminal gangs were forcing Kosovo refugees into prostitution.

But Nick Hardwick, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said refugees coming to Britain were being carefully selected by officials from both the UNHCR and British agencies.

"What we are seeing is a real cross section of society: people from very rural areas to the Pristina middle-classes. They practically all have children with them," he said. "They are enormously grateful for the welcome they have received and I think they want to honour that hospitality."

Some people in Northern Albania had led a "fairly lawless existence", but it was wrong to link them with the Kosovo Albanians who are in flight. "For anyone to try and drum up fears and hostilities based on completely unacceptable stereotypes and prejudices is outrageous," he said.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is co-ordinating The Independent's appeal.Please send a cheque or postal order payable to "Kosovo Appeal" to the Disasters Emergency Committee, PO Box 2710, London W1A 5AD. Or call 0990 22 22 33 to donate by credit card.