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Saturday, May 15, 1999 Published at 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK


UNHCR hits back at critics

A refugee boy plays football at the Bojane camp, Macedonia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has attacked an MPs' report which accused it of coping badly with the Kosovo refugee crisis.

Kosovo: Special Report
The UNHCR was not consulted by the MPs on the Commons select committee, according to its UK and Ireland representative Hope Hanlan. She said the criticism was "regrettable", and in some cases based on inaccurate information.

UNHCR spokeswoman Judith Kumin said observers visit the camps for 24 hours, getting only a "snapshot" view.

"It would be much better to see them working day after day, week after week and month after month in exhuasting conditions," she said.

(Click here to see a map of latest refugee movements)

The BBC's Jon Kay: "The report says that the UNHCR responded too slowly to the crisis"
The International Development Committee all-party report was published on Saturday. It said that despite the UNHCR's prediction that the Kosovo Albanians would flee from their homeland, it had "failed to meet their needs".

The report's authors visited refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania, including Kukes.

[ image: Camps in Kukes are full so refugees are staying in a warehouse]
Camps in Kukes are full so refugees are staying in a warehouse
It reads: "No doubt the scale and speed of expulsions from Kosovo were unexpected. We nevertheless criticise the response of the UNHCR, which has so far failed to provide co-ordination during the crisis."

The report also accused the UN body of failing to set up a registration system for the refugees after their identity documents were taken by the Serbs. Little has been done to provide proper shelter for winter or sanitation for summer, it said.

But Ms Hanlan said the report was "devoid of substance", and that it was unusual to be attacked with such an "aggressive" tone.

She also said that had the UNHCR deliberately made contingency plans for only 100,000 refugees last December. Had they estimated a higher number, it would have undermined the Rambouillet talks, she said.

Brits in Balkans
"Kosovo has been haemorrhaging people across the border. The contingency plans started at 100,000 in December and are now at 950,000 people."

Describing the situation as "very difficult", she said: "You are looking at a whole country moving. People have come across who did not know whether they should stay or leave."

Latest estimates from UNHCR put the number of people displaced from Kosovo at more than 748,000 since Nato bombing started on 24 March.

Conservative MP Bowen Wells: "The camps are badly built"
The UK, which has been criticised for its hesitation in taking in refugees, has now offered to take up to 1,000 refugees a week under the UNHCR evacuation programme.

The Northern Ireland Office has also said the province would host an unspecified number of refugees identified as priority cases by the UNHCR.

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