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Saturday, May 15, 1999 Published at 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK

UK Politics

UN failing Kosovo refugees - MPs

"UNHCR didn't cope at the beginning and it is still failing"

A committee of MPs has condemned a United Nations' agency for its handling of the Kosovo refugee crisis.

Kosovo: Special Report
They said the UN High Commission for Refugees had not coped well when the crisis first broke and was still failing to meet refugees' needs.

The International Development Committee report, published on Saturday, said: "UNHCR did not even make adequate preparations for the volume of refugees which it itself had predicted would flee from Kosovo.

Norman Smith: "A reports says that there is a lack of leadership within the UNHCR"
"Several weeks into the crisis we have no sense that UNHCR has as yet taken control of the situation, providing clear direction, leadership and co-ordination."

Committee chairman, Conservative MP Bowen Wells, said it was no excuse that UNHCR had been taken by surprise by the crisis.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It hasn't taken humanitarian forces in Albania by suprise. In the absence of UNHCR they have been doing a great deal of effective work."

[ image: UNHCR says its relief operation is under threat from lack of cash]
UNHCR says its relief operation is under threat from lack of cash
There has already been widespread criticism of the co-ordination among aid organisations. Acting EU commissioner Emma Bonino has blamed a "lack of discipline".

The report also highlights the failure of UNHCR to set up a registration system for refugees after they had their identity documents taken by Serb forces.

It said little had been done to provide proper shelter for winter or sanitation for summer.

The BBC's Norman Smith: "The report paints a dismal picture of the UNHCR's attempts to help"
It said: "If nothing is done, further humanitarian disasters will occur."

The report concluded: "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 effective leadership and co-ordination during the crisis.

[ image:
"No sense that UNHCR has yet taken control of the situation"
"Not only must current humanitarian action be made more coherent, targeted and effective, there must be planning and commitment by the international community for the long-term future both of Kosovo and the whole region."

A UNHCR spokesman told the BBC: "We find the tone of this report very regrettable and we regret even more the fact UNHCR was not given any chance to discuss the report with the committee itself.

"We believe the report is largely based on outdated information, incomplete information and in some cases inaccurate information."

[ image:
"Further humanitarian disasters may occur"
On Tuesday the agency issued an emergency appeal for funds after it said it was running out of money.

A previous appeal had asked for $146m, but it received only half of this amount - all of which has been spent, it said.

By Friday the agency said it had received $10m in total from the US and Canada, and the EU had been "encouraging" about a further $20m.

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

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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