Europeans divided over refugee crisis

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A CONFERENCE on Yugoslav refugees, to be held tomorrow in Geneva, is showing disturbing signs of degenerating into ugly arguments.

Germany yesterday stepped up the pressure on its EC partners to do more to share the refugee burden. Dieter Vogel, the government spokesman, said that, despite the continuing exodus, Germany had no immediate plans to take in more than the 5,000 refugees brought to the country in six trains over the weekend and yesterday.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl last week appealed directly to EC heads to agree on a quota system for refugees. But his appeals have won little support. Indeed, some countries, such as Austria, have attacked Germany for closing its borders earlier in the crisis.

Britain and France argue that refugees should be kept as near as possible to their place of origin. Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development, will present that position when she attends the Geneva conference. France may also suggest establishing safe havens for refugees, similar to those established in northern Iraq for the Kurdish minority.

Pointing out that, quite apart from the latest intake, Germany had already accepted 200,000 refugees from Yugoslavia over the past year, Mr Vogel said: 'It is now up to other countries to do something. Germany should not be the only one to help.' German politicians have criticised Britain, France, Spain and the Benelux countries for dragging their feet over the issue. Britain and France have each accepted just over 1,000 asylum-seekers.

The Yugoslav crisis is to be the central theme of the two-day conference opening in Geneva tomorrow which has been called by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Forty countries will attend, and the UNHCR hopes that a steering committee wil be established to deal with the humanitarian and refugee aspects of the Yugoslav problem. But officials are concerned that little may emerge from the conference, behind which John Major has thrown his political support.

'I fear this conference may just be an arena for people to point fingers at each other if this goes on,' said Sylvana Foa, the chief spokeswoman for the UNHCR.

Stefan Teloken, of the Bonn office of the UNHCR, said yesterday that, in addition to granting more humanitarian aid, delegates would be asked to come up with a fairer method of sharing the refugee burden.

Non-governmental organisations gather today to consider their recommendations.

The Dutch government said yesterday that it would temporarily admit six busloads of Bosnian refugees stranded in former Yugoslavia.

But the Foreign Minister, Hans van den Broek, said the decision to take in the 332 Bosnian Muslims should not be seen as a signal that the Netherlands would necessarily welcome large numbers of other refugees.

He said on Dutch television that the busloads would be granted temporary residence until they could be resettled in or near their old homes. The decision was based 'purely on humanitarian concerns' about their specific situation.

The Bosnians, mainly women and children, have been stranded on the border between Croatia and Slovenia since Saturday.

They are running out of food and suffering from sunstroke and dehydration, Dutch television reported. The Slovenian authorities had refused to admit them because they did not have visas for onward travel.

The Netherlands has taken about 10,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia since fighting broke out there last summer.