Letter: Shameful deportation of refugees

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The Independent Online
Sir: Last week's revelation that 36 asylum-seekers from the former Yugoslavia have been returned to 'safe' third countries presents Britain's response to the Yugoslav crisis in the worst possible light.

Even if none of these people have been returned to situations of danger, the pettiness of these deportations shows a gross insensitivity to the magnitude of the crisis and to our European partners, who have done much more than Britain in offering sanctuary to people escaping from the conflict. Rather than showing willingness to accept our share of the responsibility for assisting refugees, we have shown the same reluctance to help that has characterised our attitude to asylum-seekers from other parts of the world.

Although Britain has relaxed its rules by accepting asylum applications from people who have transited other countries in coming from Yugoslavia and who have family connections here, we nevertheless believe that Britain is violating the agreement it accepted at the 1980 meeting of the UNHCR Executive Committee, namely 'that in the case of large-scale influx, persons seeking asylum should always receive at least temporary refuge'.

We urge the British Government to think again. As host of the coming international conference, Britain will have an opportunity to show positive leadership. We must be ready to respond generously to the new needs for humanitarian aid that will undoubtedly arise with the approach of winter and the need for reconstruction. We must be ready to do our bit, if necessary, in offering refuge to people who cannot, at least in the foreseeable future, return to their home areas.

In the Refugee Council, we have been approached by many people offering their homes and help to refugees from the conflict. They feel let down by the British Government's apparent lack of sympathy. We now need a clear signal that Britain is ready and willing to play its full part in the international humanitarian response to the Yugoslav tragedy.

Yours faithfully,

KEN RITCHIE

Deputy Director

The Refugee Council

London, SW8

17 August

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