HL Deb 27 April 1999 vol 600 cc143-5

2.42 p.m.

Lord Evans of Parkside asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to assist refugees from Kosovo.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have played a major role in international efforts to bring humanitarian assistance to the refugees from Kosovo. We are focusing our help on the countries where they first sought safety, primarily Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. We are providing airlifts of emergency personnel and relief supplies, a truck convoy, logistics personnel and equipment, and support for the refugee camps which NATO forces have established. The offices which we have established in Skopje and Tirana are helping us to identify priorities for further assistance.

Lord Evans of Parkside

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that full reply. Will she confirm that the basic purpose of the NATO bombardment of Serbian targets is to seek to protect the Kosovar Albanians from widespread and murderous ethnic cleansing by the Serbian militia? Will my noble friend also agree that if NATO's policy is to succeed, then at some stage NATO forces will have to occupy Kosovo? That may take some considerable time. In those circumstances, will she agree that on humanitarian grounds there is a considerable case to be made for removing all women and children from the dreadful refugee camps on the Kosovan borders and relocating them in NATO countries until such time as they can return in safety to Kosovo and their menfolk?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, I confirm that our priority is to ensure that in the main Kosovar refugees receive care in the region so that they can return easily to their homes when it is safe for them to do so. I share the anxieties identified by my noble friend as regards what is happening to women and children. Noble Lords who heard the Statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister in relation to the NATO summit will be aware that several atrocities are being carried out against women and children. We are extremely concerned in that regard.

As to the position regarding ground troops, it has always been envisaged that at some stage ground troops will go in as part of the end game. However, there is no intention to mount a forced invasion of Kosovo. The NATO Secretary-General asked the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe to reassess ground troop options. That is part of the process of assessing all possible options for bringing about the peaceful return of the Kosovar Albanians.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me with a question which her noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean failed to answer yesterday; namely, before the bombing started, how many Kosovar Albanians were estimated to be in Kosovo? Also, how many are now estimated to have been driven over the border? How many are left in Kosovo? And, if possible, is there an estimate of how many have actually been killed by this murderous regime?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am unable to give the kind of detail the noble Lord requests. However, since 24th March just under 625,000 people have left Kosovo and are refugees in a variety of countries across the region. I am unable to give reliable figures in relation to the number of people left in Kosovo or in relation to the number of people who have been killed.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the noble Baroness convey to her ministerial friends how much I appreciate their determination not to split up Kosovar families? Will she also convey to her colleagues that it is important, when it comes to temporary admission, that this country should be seen to be no less generous than our friends and partners in the rest of western Europe?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we are concerned to try to keep Kosovar families together. In fact, we funded the Red Cross which has put in place a family-tracing service. With respect to refugees entering the United Kingdom, the noble Lord will be aware that over the weekend a number of people entered the United Kingdom. We have set up a clear process with UNHCR. We have set up a range of criteria against which UNHCR assess the basis on which it recommends that people should come to the UK. But we are firm in our resolve that refugees should be kept to the region as much as possible to expedite their return to Kosovo.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, with reference to the tail-end of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, does not the noble Baroness agree that we must not appear to be less generous than the other countries of Europe in providing the temporary accommodation required? Surely all the refugees cannot be accommodated near Kosovo. There must be a case for temporary accommodation in the rest of Europe. We heard that Germany is providing accommodation for 20,000. What are this Government going to do about it?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, your Lordships may be aware that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has stated very clearly that we are prepared to take some thousands of refugees here in the UK. However, a specific number has not been identified. We have agreed with UNHCR, which is co-ordinating refugees in the region, criteria against which it will assess whether or not refugees want to come to this country; but we will not do that against the will of the refugees themselves. We think that it is extremely important that refugees have some choice in the matter. Therefore, evacuation from the region to the UK must be voluntary.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, the Minister made an extremely important statement this afternoon when she stated in response to an earlier question that the use of ground troops in Kosovo has always been envisaged. That is a radical and remarkable change in policy. Therefore, why did the Prime Minister categorically rule out the use of ground troops at the beginning of the military action in Kosovo?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am surprised by what the noble Lord has said. There has been absolutely no change in this Government's policy. In the Rambouillet accord it was agreed, as part of a peace-keeping process and to ensure and secure peace in the region, that ground troops would be considered. There has been no change in policy.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister agree with me that the arrangements made at Leeds Bradford Airport over the weekend were excellent? I have in mind the services provided by the Immigration Service, social services, the Refugee Council and the police. Indeed, all the authorities performed excellently. Will my noble friend also join me in thanking the people of Leeds and Bradford who came to receive the refugees and agree with me that the services provided for the refugees were the very best?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for those questions. He has given me the opportunity to join with him in thanking not only the people of Leeds and Bradford but also all the authorities who so very positively responded to the refugees who arrived over the weekend. We have put the arrangements for the receiving of refugees in the UK into the hands of the Refugee Council, which has been tasked by the Home Secretary with putting in place a special reception service for refugees who are arriving here under the UNHCR humanitarian evacuation programme.