War In The Balkans: Kosovars do not want to be here, says Short

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The Independent Online
CLARE SHORT, the International Development Secretary, clashed angrily with MPs yesterday when they said the Government should be "ashamed" it had accepted so few refugees from Kosovo.

As a second planeload of refugees arrived, bringing the total number to just over 300, the Commons International Development Select Committee attacked the United Kingdom's failure to take in more families from the war zone.

Ms Short, who raised the humanitarian crisis in Macedonia and Albania at the cabinet meeting, hinted that more aid would be made available soon to ease the problem.

She said that it was clear that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees could not cope with the crisis and revealed that a special Home Office team was being flown out to the region in the next few days to provide extra expertise.

However, Ms Short infuriated MPs when she insisted that the reason so few ethnic Albanian refugees had been flown to Britain was that they simply did not want to come. "We may think they want to come here, but they are desperate to reunite with their families. It's not the case that Britain is not accepting them, most people don't want to come here," she said.

Ms Short added that the reason Germany had taken so many refugees was because it already had a large ethnic Albanian population, unlike the UK. Germany has already accepted 10,000 Kosovars and is debating whether to take in another 10,000. Germany took in 350,000 Bosnian refugees during the 1992-95 war in the former Yugoslav republic.

Ms Short said the British Government had decided that there was "no upper or lower limit" to the number of Kosovars it would take, she said. But Britain would not set a quota because that would be seen as complicity with the Serbian government's policy of ethnic cleansing.

Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley and one of the harshest critics of government policy, said she agreed with Amnesty International that the UK's acceptance of so few refugees amounted to "shameful tokenism".

Ms Clwyd said that it was clear the UK had not even appeared on the list of countries given to refugees applying for airlift places. Last week, the word England had been added - in Biro - on to the forms handed out, she said.

Jenny Tonge, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond, said that most people were surprised that Britain had failed to match the commitment of such countries as Germany and Norway.

"People are feeling a little ashamed that we appear not be be taking enough people into this country. I can't believe that we can't devise some sort of getting these people who want to come to Britain," she said.

The Local Government Association had announced that it had 3,000 beds available across the country, so there was no reason why more refugees should not be admitted, she said.

The committee, which has just returned from a fact- finding mission in the Balkan region, told Ms Short that more needed to be done to help Macedonia to cope with the refugee crisis.

Tess Kingham, MP for Gloucester, said that the ethnic tensions in the country, which has a large Albanian minority of its own, made it a "powder keg" that would explode unless more aid was forthcoming.

However, Ms Short said that it was Albania, with more than 300,000 refugees, which needed more help than Macedonia and she would not succumb to "a sort of blackmail" from the Macedonian government's warnings that it was reaching breaking point.

Macedonia has accepted more than 200,000 refugees and has warned it may collapse unless the West injects at least pounds 300m to offset a budget deficit caused by the war and take in far larger numbers of refugees from the camps situated around the capital, Skopje.

Thomas Sutcliffe, page 8