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War zone refugees appeal to stay in UK.

A group of 18 Kosovar refugees who overstayed their leave to remain in Britain yesterday avoided a Government-imposed deadline to quit the country after lodging last-minute applications to remain.

The Kosovars, who fled to Britain at the height of the Nato bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, had been told to leave yesterday or face possible deportation.

As of Friday, of the 4,346 Kosovars who came to Britain during the conflict, 2,396 had returned, while 1,932 had applied for extended leave to remain or were seeking asylum.

The remainder had been threatened with appropriate enforcement measures "as soon as is practicable" but a Home Office spokeswoman said: "We have now got applications for extended stay for all and none are facing imminent removal action."

The Refugee Council had appealed to the Government to avoid enforced repatriations and pointed out that a report by a British Parliamentary delegation to Kosovo warned that large-scale returns could disrupt the international programme to rebuild the region.

However, the chances of any of the remaining Kosovo Albanians being allowed to remain in Britain appeared slim after Home Secretary Mr Jack Straw insisted those who had no claim to stay would have to leave.

"We led a huge humanitarian exercise in order to save the Kosovo Albanians ... In addition to that, European countries organised an evacuation programme, in which we participated, and quite a number came into this country, as a temporary expedient, to help people who were in serious need," said Mr Straw.

"And the understanding was that they would get permission (to stay) for a year, and if political rights were restored in Kosovo to the Kosovo Albanians they would have to go back.

"Now we have kept to our side of the bargain, and we look to the Kosovo Albanians here to stick to their side of the bargain,'' he said.

Mr Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Kosovo refugees in the UK and other western European countries should be allowed to stay a little longer, until Kosovo is more ready to have them back.

"In the meantime, the more language, business and other skills like IT that we can offer to teach them, the better for all concerned. A delayed return may well be cheaper for all the countries concerned.''
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 26, 2000
Words:382
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