HC Deb 15 June 1999 vol 333 cc102-3W
Angela Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, following the changed circumstances, any more refugees from Kosovo will be evacuated from the region to the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [87354]

Mr. Straw

The Government's aim, in common with that of our European Union partners, has been to ensure that the great majority of refugees are looked after in the region so that they are able to return to their homes when it is safe to do so. We have also responded to the request for help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to evacuate the most vulnerable people from the area. We accordingly accepted around 4,000 refugees into the United Kingdom. The stage now reached in the military action against the Milosevic regime and the fact that the first steps have been taken to allow the refugees to return mean that significant evacuations under the Humanitarian Evacuation Programmes are no longer necessary.

We have, therefore, decided to reduce significantly the number of flights into the United Kingdom. After today, we expect to receive a further flight this week and one next week. We will, then, keep the situation under review. We will focus on people who cannot be cared for in the region and on the spouses and dependants of people who are already in the United Kingdom.

Those refugees arriving under the Programme who have been granted 12 months leave to enter will not have their stay curtailed. We will, however, actively be establishing arrangements to facilitate the return of those who want to go back to Kosovo before then.

Consideration of claims for asylum for citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) will be suspended temporarily while the security situation in Kosovo is clarified. Consideration of applications will resume as soon as practicable. Nobody will be sent back to Kosovo until we are satisfied that it is safe for them to go. We propose for the time being to grant 12 months leave to enter or remain to Kosovan Albanians on an exceptional basis. This will provide for the same status and access to benefits as between those FRY citizens who have arrived as part of the UNHCR's Humanitarian Evacuation Programme and those who have arrived independently once their cases are decided.

Although the evacuation flights from Macedonia to the United Kingdom are coming to an end, we will continue to apply family reunion criteria under our normal immigration policy for those in the United Kingdom who have refugee status, and we propose to continue to operate family reunion for those who have come to the United Kingdom under the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme. Anyone granted such a visa for travel to the United Kingdom will, however, be required to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to the hard work which local authorities and the voluntary sector have done in preparing for and receiving evacuees from Kosovo. Even those areas which have not actually received flights or accommodated evacuees have responded with generosity and enthusiasm to the need to plan for arrivals.

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