HC Deb 01 March 2000 vol 345 cc414-5
5. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What assessment she has made of the progress made by UK non-governmental organisations funded by her Department in rebuilding the education system in Kosovo. [111177]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

Our main support to education in Kosovo has been through the United Nations children fund—UNICEF. We made £2 million available to UNICEF as soon as the refugees had begun to return, most of which was allocated to educational support. That helped UNICEF to get 75 per cent. of school-age children back in school by 1 November 1999—the figure is now 85 per cent.—which is a considerable achievement given the widespread destruction of buildings and the fact that, from 1990 on when the Albanian language was banned in schools, the state school system crumbled. We also provided £600,000 to KFOR to support emergency repairs to school buildings.

Mr. Coaker

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging response. I also pay tribute to the work that she has done along with UNICEF. Does she agree that, in the sort of environment that exists in Kosovo, education is essential? It gives the children stability and teaches them the value of tolerance, which will be essential for the rebuilding of the various communities in the region.

Clare Short

I agree. Many people who comment on Kosovo have now forgotten the build-up. For 10 years before the conflict, Albanian teachers were expelled from schools, the children could not speak their language in schools and they did not have a normal education system within which Serb and Albanian children met. Now, it is difficult because of the bitterness. We are trying to reconstruct a normal school system within which children will learn to treat each other as equals. That is important.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Is the Secretary of State aware that of the 300,000 school children in education in Kosovo, fewer than 0.3 per cent. are of Serbian extraction, which demonstrates that almost all Serbian families with children to protect have left the province? That shows that the product of our policy there will be an ethnically pure Kosovo of Albanians only.

Clare Short

I agree that those matters are a worry, but no one should be surprised. Ten years of persecution of Albanian-speaking people before the conflict and all the killing have led to bitterness. It is crucial that we stand up for the principle of equal treatment, as KFOR is doing. We are inching forward, but the situation is bad because the seeds of bitterness and hatred have been sown for 10 years and, sadly, it takes time to put that right. We are doing our very best.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

In welcoming the excellent work of UNICEF in Kosovo, will my right hon. Friend also warmly welcome the launch today of its Growing Up Alone Campaign, which, in the next 18 months, aims to improve dramatically the lot of children throughout the world who face the problems of poverty, war and AIDS-HIV?

Clare Short

We welcome the campaign. We work strongly with UNICEF in trying to develop policies that reach all children, not only some children, and that is the way in which UNICEF is moving. That campaign is focusing, for example, on child soldiers and AIDS orphans—children who have no one to protect them. We should be particularly responsible for them.