Refugees sent nationwide

20 May 99
Local authorities in the north, the Midlands and Scotland will now be expected to absorb 20,000 or more refugees from the Kosovo war, it was revealed this week.

21 May 1999

The huge increase in the expected influx may not be the end of the story, as the Home Office is predicting that the situation will worsen after August. The south of England, where there has already been some public resistance to arrivals from the war zone, is not being asked to house any of the arrivals.

The Local Government Association this week issued its first bulletin to chief executives of all councils outlining detailed plans on how to house the refugees. Advice will follow on how to give the new arrivals access to the NHS.

Confidential notes of meetings of the Home Office Strategy Group, which is handling the crisis, disclose the big jump in refugees from the current 1,000. The Home Office has started contingency planning to open former Ministry of Defence bases and redundant hospitals as reception centres.

A meeting on May 14 was told that the North West and Merseyside region will take 2,500 refugees, with 1,500 coming in the next ten days.

On May 18, the Local Government Association decided to increase the refugee intake from June to 3,000 per area, and designated new regions. From June 7, six flights a week will arrive at Leeds/Bradford airport bringing in 3,000 refugees to be rehoused in south and west Yorkshire and Humberside.

In mid-June, third and fourth designated areas will start taking in 3,000 more refugees. These will cover three cities in the north-east Midlands – Leicester, Derby and Nottingham – and three cities in the North East – Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

A fifth area covering Staffordshire and Warwickshire and the West Midlands will take another 3,000 from July.

Scotland and Wales are expected to take 6,000 more refugees in July once negotiations have been agreed with local authorities. However, there are no plans as yet to send any refugees south of Leicester, and the government has decided that none will be sent to London or the South East because of housing pressures.

The NHS will also come under increasing pressure. The May 14 meeting was told that 'many of the refugees are more ill than anticipated', and this could delay moving them into permanent accommodation.

Simultaneously, perhaps in an effort to reassure local authorities about the cost of the operation, an exchange of letters between Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Sir Jeremy Beecham, chair of the LGA, has been released to chief executives. In his, Straw pledged to pay all costs in running reception areas by reimbursing voluntary organisations through grants.

Beecham has demanded 100% funding when refugees move into permanent accommodation to cover schooling and help provided by social services.


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