Focus: Kosovo Peace Deal - The expulsions have stopped in Kosovo, but refugees are still flying into Britain

Cole Moreton
Saturday 12 June 1999 23:02


he war might be over, but the refugees keep coming to Britain. hey arrive by the planeload every day, dressed in their only clothes and carrying meagre possessions in plastic bags.

So far 2,500 Kosovars have been airlifted into this country from Macedonia and taken to reception centres in Scotland and the north of England. Despite the talk of peace, flights carrying about 160 people are expected to arrive daily at Leeds-Bradford airport "for the foreseeable future", according to the Refugee Council.

Each new group is welcomed by interpreters, doctors and social workers, and helped to settle in a specially renovated building such as an old people's home, school or tower block. Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield and Blackburn have already taken in refugees, along with parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Cumbria.

Each person is given a year's exceptional leave to remain, with access to free health and dental care, welfare payments and education. Children are taught English, and encouraged to go to local schools whenever possible. Adults may work, if jobs are available - although there is an ominous shortage of fit young men among the refugees who come here the official way.

Some men have made their own escapes, often by stowing away in lorries. In April 690 illegal immigrants from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia claimed asylum in Britain, says the Home Office, which has set up a special unit to process them quickly. As a result the total proportion of successful applications rose from 8 per cent in March to 33 per cent in April.

"here is a two-tier system," says Sue Simmons of the Refugee Council. Even when couples are reunited after entering the country in separate ways, they are treated totally differently. "hese men have to claim asylum in the usual way, which means you wait 17 months for your first interview, you can't work for six months, and you have to live on vouchers."

Agron Pefqueli, aged 21, from Pristina, who arrived in Britain by plane at the end of May, said the people of Leeds had been very welcoming, "but our wish is to go back to Kosovo as soon as we can". He had no idea when that would be. "We are not very sure about this agreement, because we all know Milosevic and his promises."

Bahrije Kocmezi, aged 57, from the same town, said she felt safe in Yorkshire. "It will be difficult to go back, because our house has been burned down, but after we have dealt with that our lives will be better. Our biggest longing is to be reunited with our daughters."

Children ask when they will be allowed to go home, but adults know they are last in the queue. he United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned people not to try to enter Kosovo "before safety is assured", and says its priority must be to care for the "internally displaced" - the half-million people who were chased from their homes and have lived rough in the forests and mountains since the conflict began.

hose waiting in border camps will be next in line, once their homeland has been made safe. Only then will the 90,000 being sheltered in the EU, Scandinavia, Australia and North America be helped to return.

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