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Mr. Casale: The hon. Lady has told us about the present arrangements for the accommodation of refugees in Albanian host families and elsewhere. Given the state of the camps and the difficulties experienced by the host families, is there any prospect of accommodation being arranged there for refugees in the medium and longer term, or is the UNHCR right in saying that such accommodation can only be temporary and provisional, and that it will soon be necessary to move many of the refugees to other countries in western Europe?

Dr. Tonge: There are two aspects to the question. Some refugees, having reflected, are beginning to think that they would be better off in another country; but it was emphasised to me--although I spoke to only a small sample--that they wanted that to be on a temporary basis, especially the women and children.

As I said, the Albanians have suggested the establishment of medium to long-term villages, providing slightly better accommodation than tents--perhaps prefabricated buildings such as those that we had just after the war--so that people could live in village communities.

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They would then be able to stay in the area among people they knew, and to return to Kosovo that much more quickly.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said that the Albanians, and indeed the Macedonians, would not tolerate the influx of people even poorer than themselves indefinitely. They are responding magnificently now, but that may not last for ever, and there could be civil unrest. One of the most moving things said to me during my short visit was said by Mr. Sakiqi, the leader of Tirana council. He said, "Whatever Europe does, the Kosovars are our brothers, and we welcome them." The Albanian people have set us an example with their generosity and kindness, but we must realise that there is a huge financial implication for the future, and we must know where the money will come from. I trust that the Government will not make the Department for International Development contingency reserve meet the cost in the medium and long term. The money must come from the Treasury reserves; it cannot come out of the development budget. One thing is certain: we need to plan for the long term, and we need to plan quickly.

11.29 am

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I am sure that all hon. Members wish that the war had never been necessary. For a long time, we tried to negotiate with Milosevic and the Yugoslav Government in an attempt to reach some accommodation that would ensure that the ethnic cleansing that we are witnessing would not continue, but it was anticipated as far back as July 1995 that there would be refugees. One of the interesting things that we learned during our latest visit was that a disaster contingency plan had been drawn up as far back as July 1995 for 300,000 refugees from Kosovo to Albania and Macedonia. Hon. Members may well ask what happened to that plan.

The plan was jointly organised by the World Food Programme and the UNHCR. The programme has done its job in relation to the plan because there is no shortage of food and it is preparing to feed many thousands of refugees for months ahead, not only if they remain in Albania and Macedonia, but if, by some good chance, the war ends and they are able to return to their country.

Even if the war were to finish tomorrow, the refugees would have to be fed in Kosovo for about 16 months after their return because they have missed the planting season. Before they are able to plant again, obviously, they will need to be fed by the World Food Programme.

I wonder what happened to the plan. The meetings between the World Food Programme, the UNHCR and various other agencies were supposed to continue every three months. One of the things that are obvious to us after visiting the region twice in the past two weeks is that The UNHCR, for various reasons, has been caught short.

As some of my hon. Friends have mentioned, there is a shortage of tents in Albania. When we were there last week, 9,000 people were out in the open without cover. The UNHCR told us that there was a shortage of tents. There are other shortages. Refugees in both Macedonia and Albania are in overcrowded conditions. In Macedonia, the population in the camps is three times the density that the UNHCR considers acceptable.

Last week, I went to some of the camps for the second time in 10 days. What is clear is that, with the present numbers that are flooding across the border, it is

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impossible for the existing camps to contain such numbers of people. Aid workers were saying to me that they wanted us to know that refugees had been threatening hunger strikes, or to burn some of the tents down unless things improved in the camps.

As the NATO commander made clear to us, there is a small window of opportunity. Only a few months are left to get people out of the camps before the winter comes. Unless they get out, when the winter comes, they will freeze to death. At the end of August, there will be the short-term problem of making arrangements for the winter.

On my first visit to the camps, people told me that their choice of country would have been the United Kingdom if that choice had been available to them, but that they had chosen other countries. In one case, a university professor and his family of three had been forced out of their home. He was forced out of his job at a museum by the Serbs, who brought a letter to him one day and said that he had no job. He went back to his home village and lived in a house with his family. One day, the paramilitaries came and burnt it down.

The professor then hid in a basement for two months. The paramilitaries came down that street as well and he had to flee. He and his family spent three nights on the road and in a forest, and many other nights in the open on the border. He said that he had been separated from his 90-year-old mother.

As hon. Members know, it is a story that many other people in the camps can tell: a story of separations and losses. They do not know where their children or elderly parents are. In some cases, their husbands were kept behind; they believe that they are now dead. All those refugees have stories of tragedy.

The refugees go to the camps and are asked which third country they would be ready to go to. That professor told me that he had been given a form and had put down Norway as his first choice because, as he said, although not in an accusatory way, the refugees understood that Britain did not want them. I met a man who was in another camp with his family, who put down Germany as his first choice. He was told that Britain was not an option. I asked the UNHCR people on the spot, who said that they had put down countries as options only if those countries had specified a quota.

Going there the second time, I picked up a form in one of the UNHCR tents where refugees were filling in their details. Of course, the vast majority have no papers at all: no passports, no identity cards--nothing to prove their identity. They were filling in forms for UNHCR.

I turned over one form. Again, it had the same list of countries on the back, and someone had written in biro--I presume that it must have been a refugee--"England." I have said many times how ashamed I was that the refugees thought that the United Kingdom did not want them, so I am delighted that the Prime Minister has stated that we are ready to take several thousand refugees, without specifying a quota. That is good news. I am pleased that he saw for himself the needs of those refugees and how impossible it is for countries such as Macedonia, which has 2.2 million people, to absorb such numbers.

Sixty per cent. of refugees are already in private homes in Macedonia. Again, the hospitality of the people who have taken refugees into their homes, in both Macedonia and Albania, has to be commended. However, it puts

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enormous strains on families. Twenty-seven refugees were living in one home with two bedrooms. Obviously, that cannot go on because it strains the host family. They do not have the money to support those people. Some of my hon. Friends have talked about the low incomes in both Macedonia and Albania. We are now saying that we will be generous to the refugees who want to come to Britain. I am pleased about that.

In Albania, I was told by our embassy that we were giving no visas. Indeed, people who approach the embassy for visas are told to go to Istanbul. I hope that that is something that my hon. Friend the Minister will look into. It seems utter nonsense that we are sending people to Istanbul to apply for visas.

Last week, people were telephoning me from Manchester, including the wife of a man from Kosovo who has lived in this country for more than 10 years. He went to Albania to get his elderly parents who, two months ago, had come across from Kosovo. He was told that he could not get a visa to bring them back to Britain. Again, such incidents have to be investigated.

The strain on the Macedonian Government cannot be over-emphasised. As I have said, it is a small country of 2.2 million people. It is very poor, with 40 per cent. unemployment. It is having to pay for the transport of refugees to the camps and for the policing of those camps. The Deputy Foreign Minister, who spoke to us, mentioned the extra man hours for policing and the hospital treatment for refugees that Macedonia had to pay for. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said, it is no longer able to export many of its goods to other countries.

In Macedonia, 87 contracts with EU countries have been cancelled. The Minister told us that he was afraid for the political stability of his country. It is right that we give countries such as Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania as much economic aid as possible. They must be assisted in dealing with the vast numbers of refugees who are flooding into their countries.

The UNHCR has a problem, although I do not know quite what it is; it may be understaffing. I have the greatest respect for UN agencies, as do my hon. Friends, but the UNHCR's role in this and what happened to the disaster preparedness plan must be investigated in the future.

I have been to many refugee camps and I have seen much worse; I can be realistic about the situation in which the Kosovars now find themselves. Many of the Kurds who fled across the mountains from Iraq into Iran 10 years ago are still in refugee camps in Iran. It is unlikely that Kosovars will return home in vast numbers before Kosovo is rebuilt.

Obviously, I hope that the war will soon be over, although I still consider that ground troops are essential. I said so on 14 January in the House and I have not changed my mind. I am sure that were the Prime Minister to obtain the backing of other EU countries, he would be ready to use those ground troops. The Americans' attitude is amazingly ambivalent. This is not the first time that they have been enthusiastic for a particular war, only to back off. Our Prime Minister is resolute. He completely opposes the hideous ethnic cleansing in which Milosevic is engaged.

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I agree with the Government line that Milosevic must be defeated, that Kosovo must be a safe place to which the Kosovars can return, and that we must give Kosovo, and possibly Serbia when the war is over, as much economic aid as possible. In the meantime, we must persist in defeating what we all know, at the end of the 20th century, is no longer acceptable in Europe.

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