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11.43 am

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) refers, in the long title of his debate, to "Humanitarian and economic effects". I subsume those broadly into the social consequences of a huge tide of refugees. I understood you to rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it would be within order to discuss the impact that that may have on the United Kingdom.

Hon. Members may recall a rather peculiar incident that took place on the quayside at Calais some three months ago involving an exchange of fire between people whom the French police later identified as Kosovars, as a result of which some British tourists were injured. That gave rise to various questions, such as how they got there, what were they doing and how they had managed to come as far as the English channel carrying firearms.

Further inquiries disclosed that it was quite normal for British tourists returning home and lorry drivers with British registered vehicles to be intimidated, sometimes at gunpoint, by Kosovar refugees who want to enter the United Kingdom in their vehicles. That was before any announcement had been made on the acceptance of refugees.

That brings me to a subject to which the House must continue to direct its attention. I see from today's papers that MI6 and the other intelligence services are also involved. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has already reminded the House of certain findings of the German police authorities and Interpol regarding the high level of criminal infiltration in the KLA by Balkan criminal elements mainly concerned with drugs, immigration rackets and prostitution.

We know that a high criminal infiltration in any body results in a breakdown into gang warfare. The events on the quayside at Calais had every appearance of gang or factional warfare. For that reason, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, for whom I have huge respect, will not take it personally when I say that I wish that a Home Office Minister was present beside him who could pay some regard to my points. In the fullness of time, the criminality that pervades the KLA will be a matter of prime importance for consideration by the Government and the House of Commons.

Mr. Dalyell: It might be unreasonable to ask the Minister to comment in any kind of detail, but some of us do ask the Government for a statement on Tim Butcher's report in The Daily Telegraph today on MI6, and on the recurring reports that there is an investigation by Interpol and the Bundeskriminalamt Verfassungschutz. At least we should have the assurance that the Government take the matter seriously.

Mr. Clark: I hope that the Minister will infer from what I have said that that would be welcome.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): All I want to say at this stage is that Ministers in my Department are in close touch with Home Office Ministers about all the issues, and Home Office Ministers will take account of all that is said in this debate relating to their responsibilities.

Mr. Clark: I am grateful to the Minister for responding at this stage.

I listened with great concern to the first-hand accounts of visiting the camps by the hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), and for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). The hon. Members for Richmond Park and for Cynon Valley spoke movingly and I would in no way impugn their testimony to the House. However, did not the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie have any intimation of the degree of intimidation and gang dominance within the camps?

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley said that she had heard from the Macedonian authorities that there was a threat of a hunger strike or of burning down the tents. Who is organising that threat? Why should perfectly ordinary decent people in a high level of distress consider starving themselves and their children and burning down the accommodation that has been provided by the great generosity of the west? I suggest that it is because they have been threatened and told that that is what they must do if they want to get into line and stay safe.

My evidence is anecdotal. I have not visited the camps myself. One of my sons is a soldier and, as the House knows, there is general gossip and an exchange of information among the services. He has given me anecdotal evidence of drug trafficking, violence and intimidation, and, in particular, the trawling of camps and the removal of likely candidates for prostitution rackets. Such things are habitual and recognised. I see the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie shifting in his seat. I hope that he will feel able to comment briefly on that.

Mr. Worthington: The camps are ripe for the kind of activity to which the right hon. Gentleman refers if we do not get the situation there right. If we simply allow things to go on as they are, they will become recruiting grounds for the KLA. Something similar happened in Rwanda and elsewhere. That is why I was emphasising the much more important point--rather than the issue that the right hon. Gentleman is stressing--that the vast majority of people in the camps are destitute and that appalling things have been done to them. We should concentrate on that point.

Mr. Clark: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and should not for a moment dispute the tenor of his comments. However, I feel that the House should be aware of the very high level and very wide diffusion of criminality within the camps and within the itinerant refugee bodies themselves.

When the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie says that we have to "get it right", I assume that he means that provision of direct aid to those bodies is not of itself sufficient, but that there will have to be a level of policing. There is no doubt that the flow, when it comes, of those people into equable and democratic western societies will cause enormous trouble, as it contains within it many people who are simply taking advantage of the situation to operate drug trafficking.

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There has always been a very close link between the Albanian mafia, the Calabrian mafia in southern Italy, and drugs are the most portable and easily traded form of wealth. The moment that people get into that type of racketeering, violence, murder and intimidation follow. We have to be extremely careful to guard against such developments.

Magistrates in my constituency are already going out of their way to tell me of their experience in the London courts with Albanians affecting to claim refugee status. Those Albanians are being indoctrinated and told what to say by one or two groups of solicitors in the capital, who are clearly retained by criminal elements that are a part of the overall structure. They know how to ask for interpreters, to claim that they are below the appropriate age and to assert totally unjustified charges of racism, although they have been apprehended for genuinely criminal acts.

The House should be aware that the current situation is as good an opportunity as any for those groups. If we are not careful in our generous impulses--which are always one of the Chamber's most valuable responses to particularly objectionable crises; and first-hand testimony of which we have heard from hon. Members today--we shall be making ourselves vulnerable to a very great criminal influx.

I am glad that the Minister has said that the matter will be properly reported and that proper liaison on it will be made with the Home Office. It is an aspect of the whole tragic affair that--because it is so widely diffused, and the element of violence is so overt--our Government should be considering very seriously as they approach it.

11.53 am

Ms Tess Kingham (Gloucester): This is one of those rare occasions when I decide--halfway through a debate, after hearing hon. Members' speeches--to make a completely different speech from the one that I had planned on making. I should like very briefly to address the issue of psychosocial support, mental health and psychological support for refugees in camps and in host families in Macedonia and Albania. The issue may not seem relevant to the debate, but it is, and I hope that you will be patient with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and allow me to develop the argument.

Early in the NATO military campaign, I asked in the House whether psychosocial support would be provided very early for refugees, to ensure stability in the camps and in the surrounding areas, and when the refugees have returned to their homes in Kosovo. After visiting the camps and surrounding areas in Macedonia and Albania, and after speaking to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation and refugees themselves, I am more convinced than ever that we have to co-ordinate psychosocial support and ensure that refugees receive at a very early stage the mental health support and counselling that they need.

The refugees have witnessed, or been victims of, a series of acts of terror. They have seen massacres. When we were at the Blace border crossing, we spoke to people who had seen piles of dead bodies by the roadside in villages around Lipjan. They have also witnessed beatings and threats. We spoke to refugees who said that the Serbs had daily entered their homes, holding guns to their

5 May 1999 : Column 891

children's heads and saying, "Shall I shoot them today, mother? No--not today, but maybe tomorrow." After a few days of that type of intimidation, they left their homes.

The refugees have experienced rape. I was quite shocked to hear some of the comments on rape and intimidation made earlier in the debate. It is well known that women, particularly from the Muslim community and in a culture in which rape is deeply shaming, will not just come out and tell all and sundry that they have been raped. Rape is therefore very difficult to verify in such societies. Sometimes, the truth comes out only after months or years.

We spoke also to refugees whose homes were burnt, who saw their animals being killed, and who had been separated from their families. One of the most moving moments was seeing the long list of lost children, aged two to 18, posted outside the International Committee of the Red Cross building.

The refugees are in a state of shock and suffering from acute anxiety. Those are symptoms of the first stage of being terrorised, and become apparent particularly when one speaks to the old men in the camps or in host families--halfway through a logical conversation, tears start streaming down their faces. That happened with almost everyone with whom I spoke in the camps. At some point in the conversation, they cried uncontrollably. It was not sobbing, but uncontrollable tears.

We have been told by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture that the refugees are suffering acute anxiety, and that they need psychosocial help and mental health counselling and support. They need that help now, and they need it to be delivered in an organised and co-ordinated manner. The refugees will continue to suffer anxiety, panic attacks and flashbacks, and possibly ill health.

We have already heard about the camps destabilising economic and social effects in Macedonia. The camps that we visited were surrounded by fences. The Macedonian authorities tried to keep the camps as far away as possible from the rest of the population. People are not allowed at will out of the camps, which are quite tense places. Because of the volatility of the situation in Macedonia and the effects of the refugee influx on the local population, the Macedonian Government move most refugee convoys and equipment at night.

If mental health support is not provided to refugees now, there will be many and various severe consequences. Organisations such as the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture have stated that the consequences of not providing help now will be manifested in several ways, such as in violent outbursts. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) was perhaps right to say that there are violent outbursts in the camps; but many of those may be caused by pent-up trauma and lack of psychological support.

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