HL Deb 15 June 1999 vol 602 cc132-4

2.57 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What preparations are being made for creating conditions in Kosovo which will encourage refugees to return there once a settlement of the dispute with Yugoslavia has been achieved.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the refugees are keen to return to Kosovo as soon as their security is guaranteed. As the international security presence is established in Kosovo and as Federal Republic of Yugoslavia security forces withdraw, so we, in close collaboration with the military and UN, can begin the considerable task of providing the displaced persons and refugees with humanitarian support and assistance to rebuild their homes and essential infrastructure. The Department for International Development is currently establishing a field office in Pristina in order to better assist with this task.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. However, perhaps I may express my disappointment that this Question is not being answered by her noble friend Lady Symons who I informed yesterday that my Question would be a political one and not an aid question. I want to refer to a matter which I believe is relevant to the question of the enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm of the refugees to return to Kosovo; that is, the risk of continuing friction or disagreement between NATO and the Russians which could certainly discourage refugees returning.

Given the helpful role of Russia in securing the cease-fire and the known willingness of Russia to provide troops, is it not surprising that no role was provided for Russian troops in the military agreement? I am not justifying Russian action in relation to Pristina airport but it is important to understand why they may have taken this action.

Noble Lords


Lord Blaker

My Lords, with silence, I shall come to my Question. President Yeltsin referred to the connection between that action and what he calls Russia being sidelined in the peace process. I raise this matter because I believe it is important. Is it not of great importance that we should continue to have good relations between Russia and NATO both in the context of Kosovo and the wider context?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, perhaps I may assure the noble Lord that when I stand at the Dispatch Box I am answering on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. There has been no noticeable lack of enthusiasm with respect to refugees wanting to return to Kosovo. In fact, one of our concerns has been that refugees may want to return too quickly, before the international security force has had an opportunity to ensure security in Kosovo.

With regard to the specific point concerning Russia, my noble friend Lady Symons addressed this point yesterday in response to a question from the noble Lord. It might be helpful if I repeat some of what she said. We welcome a Russian contribution to KFOR. We are aware that a small number of Russian troops are already in Kosovo. There is a clear understanding that there will be no further movement of Russian troops into Kosovo without prior agreement in NATO. Of course, we want to continue to have good relations with the Russian Government, not only on this issue but on other issues also.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the Question and ask my noble friend about the refugees that are held in the United Kingdom. Can she tell us about the conditions under which they are being held and their view about their aspirations to return to Kosovo?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, our aim has always been to ensure that it is safe for refugees before we propose their return to Kosovo from the UK. There are just under 3,500 refugees in the UK who have come in since the end of April. They are located in a number of refugee centres across the country. I should like to pay tribute to the work of local authorities and the voluntary sector, as well as the work of the Refugee Council which has been instrumental in ensuring a warm welcome for them. Our initial contact with the refugees indicated that the majority would like to return as soon as possible. We shall be in regular communication with them to ensure that that happens.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the enormous cost of repairing the damage done in Kosovo should be apportioned between those who took part in the campaign? What steps are being taken to see that the benefit of the work that results from those payments will be felt, as far as possible, in Kosovo and not distributed among other countries?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, noble Lords may be aware that we announced an additional £50 million yesterday for the Kosovo effort. We are working with our international partners and the international financial institutes to ensure that we look not just at the immediate rehabilitation effort but also the long-term reconstruction of the entire region. It is far too early to say how much that will cost. However, I am sure that question will be raised in this House on several more occasions.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one aspect of infrastructure that must be addressed with great urgency is the devastated state of the education system? Is the Minister aware that since the crisis began a couple of years ago, a thousand dons from Pristina University and tens of thousands of teachers, all of Albanian ethnic origin, have been dismissed? Must not, therefore, staffing and equipping the education system be very, very high in our priorities for re-establishing life in Kosovo?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that education is one of our key priority areas. We have been working to ensure that even in the refugee camps the children have access to education. I am sure that when a civilian administration is established in Kosovo, education will be one of the key priority areas.

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