HC Deb 06 May 1999 vol 330 cc462-3W
Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his plans to assist Kosovan refugees. [83066]

Mr. Straw

As I told the House in my statement on 5 May 1999,Official Report, columns 943-52, we have always made it clear that the United Kingdom stands ready to receive some thousands of Kosovan refugees. The next two flights are expected to arrive in Scotland at the weekend. We are planning to build up to taking about a thousand people a week within the next few weeks. Evacuations will be based on criteria agreed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) whose aim is to relieve pressure on the camps and to give priority to the most vulnerable and those with family links in the United Kingdom.

We will be sending the first team of Home Office officials to Macedonia in the next few days to work with the agencies on the ground to speed up the registration of refugees for potential evacuation. Priority will be given to medical cases, the vulnerable to family reunions.

Evacuees arriving in the United Kingdom under the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme will be granted permission to enter in line with close family members already settled in the United Kingdom or given exceptional leave to remain for twelve months to provide for their protection as requested by UNHCR. This status provides a passport into the benefits system and the right to work. Other refugees arriving independently will be eligible to apply for asylum in the usual way.