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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Allies Rush To Assist Waves of Refugees




BONN, Germany -- As refugees streamed out of Kosovo on Monday, West European leaders scrambled to restrict the number that might end up on their own doorsteps and stepped up aid efforts to encourage the displaced to stay in the Balkans.


Germany, the country that holds the presidency of the 15-member EU, has said it is ready to provide temporary shelter for 40,000 refugees. The only other countries that have provided figures are the United States and Turkey, which said they would accept 20,000 refugees each.


In the first such airlift since NATO airstrikes began, a plane carrying 150 Kosovo refugees landed in western Turkey on Monday.


The United States identified its military bases in Cuba, Guam and Europe as possible sites for sheltering 20,000 refugees, though defense officials said no decision had been made.


German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the EU expected to house some 100,000 ethnic Albanians - a small proportion of the 831,000, or about half of Kosovo's population, who NATO says have fled their homes in the past year. "No one had reckoned with the Yugoslavs moving against the Kosovo Albanians with such brutality," Fischer told reporters, conceding the West had been taken aback by the exodus since NATO began bombing Yugoslavia almost two weeks ago.


On Sunday alone, 44,000 were estimated by NATO to have been forced out of Yugoslavia into Albania and Macedonia.


EU countries have begun flying food, tents, medical supplies and other equipment to Kosovo's neighbors in a bid to stem the pressure for refugees to be flown out to the West.


Leaders of the bloc are due to meet Wednesday to discuss the refugee crisis.


Albania's government, however, said Monday that it was refusing to let more refugees fleeing the violence in Kosovo to be evacuated to other countries.


"Albania doesn't want to be part of the ethnic-cleansing mechanism that is forcing ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo," Information Minister Musa Ulqini told reportersin Tirana.


Albanian officials are wary that refugees who will leave the area might not return to their home province when the conflict is over.


Their sentiments echoed those of Emma Bonino of Italy, the EU's humanitarian-aid commissioner, who said evacuation would reinforce Yugoslavia's ethnic-cleansing campaign.Yet Albania, Europe's poorest country, is facing enormous difficulties coping with the influx of more than 200,000 refugees, and is requesting urgent humanitarian assistance.


Since Sunday, more than two dozen American, Italian and German helicopters delivered food to the border town of Kukes.


With neighboring Macedonia reluctant to accept more refugees, Albania seems likely to be the main stopping point for the hundreds of thousands of refugees still expected to flee Kosovo.


Asked about the anger and frustration of refugees left hungry and cold in the mud of the Albanian and Macedonian hills, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping defended the West's response, saying much had been achieved very quickly.


French Defense Minister Alain Richard said France was ready to take refugees if necessary.