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5 May 1999 : Column 878


11 am

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): The immediate impetus for this Adjournment debate is last week's visit by the International Development Committee to Macedonia and Albania. It was, of course, a very moving visit, on which we saw the full scale of Milosevic's barbarity towards Kosovo. It was also a useful visit, in that a Committee of this House is now in close touch with that immensely important area and will be able to help the House, through first-hand knowledge, in its important deliberations on this matter. I hope that some of my colleagues who were on that visit will be able to catch your eye in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We had access to all the major players in the area and I should like to thank them for their co-operation. One issue about which we were concerned--we made this clear on our return to Britain--was the number of refugees to be allowed into this country. I was disturbed that this country, which is risking so much to combat Milosevic's fascism, should be attracting criticism for seeming to do so little to accept refugees. While we were in the region, Britain was certainly not an option available to refugees, whereas other countries were being much more open. I am delighted that, following the Prime Minister's visit, that has been put right. It was uncomfortable to be urging the Macedonians to honour their international obligations when we were not clearly willing to pick up our own.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be most grateful for your guidance on this matter. The title of the debate on the Order Paper refers only to neighbouring countries, but the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has introduced into his dissertation the general subject of refugees and their admission to this country. I am sure that he is right so to do, and it is central to our discussion of the issue, but I should be grateful for your ruling on whether, in this context, Britain counts as a neighbouring country of Kosovo.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): It is clear to everyone that Britain is certainly not a neighbouring country. However, I would say that the two issues go together and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has been perfectly in order so far.

Mr. Worthington: I thank you for your predictable ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

If my speech appears to dwell more on Macedonia than Albania, it is not because Albania is unimportant. It is facing the greatest challenge in terms of numbers and is the poorest country in the region. Some of the challenges are common to both Albania and Macedonia, but there are some extra dimensions to the Macedonian position and I hope that other hon. Members will speak about Albania more fully than I shall.

It is absolutely clear that Milosevic's war game is to destabilise Macedonia. By far the most important political issue in Macedonia is the relationship between the numerically dominant Slavs and the more rapidly growing Albanian population. There is a visceral fear among the

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Slavs that they will lose their dominance. After all, the refugee issue is not just one of the past few weeks. When I first went to Macedonia a few years ago, we were praising the Macedonians for their hospitality to Muslims fleeing from the Milosevic-inspired outrages in Bosnia. Now, nearly 200,000 Albanians have been pushed callously out of Kosovo into Macedonia. It is absolutely essential that Macedonia is stabilised if we are to ensure success in the conflict with Milosevic over Kosovo.

Unfortunately, during the Select Committee's visit to Macedonia and Albania, I found that not enough was being done internationally to focus on the issue. It is essential to military success in the Kosovo campaign that humanitarian, economic and political support for Macedonia is augmented. For example, if there is to be a ground approach by NATO troops, the Macedonian entry--which is linked to the Greek port of Thessaloniki--is a key matter. For years, the relationship between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been fraught--the very name indicates that--and it must be harmonised.

What should be done? Milosevic regards the destabilisation of Macedonia as a major prize, which is why he shoves Kosovars towards Macedonia. While we were there, trainloads were coming in--far more than the overfull camps could cope with. According to UNICEF, there are now nearly 200,000 refugees in Macedonia and, unbelievably, more than 90,000 are staying with Macedonian families while a similar number are in camps. When we were planning our trip the week before, the number was not 200,000, but 130,000 to 140,000. The number has soared in recent days as Milosevic has turned on the taps.

It has been argued that if the refugees were taken out of the region, that would be doing Milosevic's job for him. That argument lacks conviction; it is an arid argument. Such are the numbers that many refugees will remain in Macedonia anyway. It is not a case of either Macedonia or elsewhere; it is both. While I was there last week, an increasing number of refugee-bearing planes were flying out, but they were heavily outnumbered by Milosevic's new victims coming in.

Taking our full share of refugees is not the only reassurance that we can give Macedonia as an aid to winning this conflict. We must immensely strengthen the performance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in coping with the refugees in Macedonia. Frankly, the day was saved at the start by the British-inspired NATO forces putting up the camps in Macedonia. However, the refugee programme cannot be militarised other than in the short term. The other UN organisations and non-governmental organisations yearn for the UNHCR to be powered up for that huge job which, whatever happens in respect of the military effort, will be needed for at least many months. I saw no sign on the ground that the UNHCR had anywhere near the horsepower that it needed to cope with this huge challenge in the Balkans. Can the Minister give any reassurance on that?

We must also help out the Macedonian economy. At the outset of the crisis, Macedonia had 40 per cent. unemployment. Because of the crisis, it has now lost its export trade in food and textiles, which has to go through Serbia. Unemployment is now much higher. Huge

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numbers of refugees are now in Macedonian homes with no extra resources to sustain them. It is worth pointing out that, if one uses the index of 100, the Macedonian GDP was 100 in 1989 when Yugoslavia broke up, whereas it is now 60. The country is having to bear the cost of the transport, policing and many other aspects of the refugee crisis, yet it has less income than before the crisis.

Other problems loom--I was told that the biggest threat was that the sanitation system was incapable, in the long term, of coping with the extraordinary pressures put on it by the refugees. Life for the ordinary Macedonian is getting worse because of the huge influx by a feared minority. For how long will the Macedonians blame Milosevic rather than the Albanians? They need help in bearing the cost of that influx.

Recently, the European Union distributed aid to Albania and Montenegro, but Macedonia was left out because its books were not in order. To be told by the EU that one's books are not in order is a sick joke. Get the money out and monitor it scrupulously, but do not make a tragedy into a catastrophe by accountancy. Countries such as Macedonia and Albania need money now. Poor government capacity is an indication of the scale of the problem, not an excuse for inaction. Will the Government ensure that Macedonia, like Albania and Montenegro, will receive immediate budgetary support from the EU?

May I ask the Minister a more general question? Does he believe that the EU can play an active part at present, in the light of the collapse of the Commission? The Commission staff must feel so shell shocked by the revelations of poor behaviour that they are afraid to act decisively. Is there not a case for Heads of Government to agree on extra special measures to shift committed money out of Brussels and to get it working to good effect in the Balkans? I gather that a meeting will take place today in Paris with the World bank, the European Union and others to look at the structural support that will be needed for those countries.

The size of the camps--Kukes in Albania has about 1,000 residents--is putting an unreasonable strain on the infrastructure of these poor countries. It is not that the camps around Tirana are testing its sewerage system to the limit, because Tirana does not have a sewerage system. The health threats in the summer are considerable. We cannot expect NGOs and United Nations organisations to deal with major civil engineering and governmental tasks. NATO stepped in early to rescue the situation in the camps, but development should not be militarised. I should be grateful to hear from the Minister how these structural issues are to be tackled.

These countries cannot be asked to cope with a million refugees by providing new roads, power, water, sewerage and other systems that are not linked into the infrastructure for the whole population. It is inevitable and right that the host population should benefit from the development of the infrastructure that will be necessary for the refugees.

We all hope that the war will be rapidly resolved, and that the refugees will be able to return home. However, we shall not be forgiven if we do not plan for the worst. At the moment, we cannot produce enough tents or sites to house the ever-growing number of refugees. The refugees will not be able to live in tents in the Balkan winter, and we have seen that some of the sites are

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already unsuitable. They are in the wrong location, have poor water facilities and inadequate sanitation, and places for latrines are already running out.

Long-term camps require education facilities, better health services, including reproductive health services, and attention for people's psychosocial needs. We are desperately trying to provide primitive accommodation for those expelled from Kosovo, but we may soon have to start again. Hundreds of thousands of refugees may have to be rehoused in winter quarters that do not yet exist, either in fact or even on paper.

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