Television images of Albanian refugees caught in a bottleneck of camps in countries neighboring Kosovo shocked and depressed the world. Western political leaders quickly expressed outrage at Serbia's ethnic cleansing as their spin doctors realized there would no better justification for bombing Yugoslavia than the sight of tens of thousands of brutalized people evicted from their dwellings.
But despite much hand-wringing by NATO political leaders, few Western European countries wished to accept the flood of refugees.
Immigration is politically unpopular no matter how awful a refugee's plight, particularly in countries already suffering from high unemployment and ethnic tension.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) states that since the conflict began, over 800,000 people have been displaced in Yugoslavia.
The evacuation of refugees from Macedonia, where many Kosovo Albanians initially headed, began on April 5. By May 4, according to the UNHCR, just over 28,000 of 210,000 Kosovars in Macedonia had been moved to third countries.
A vast disparity exists in the number of refugees European countries have been prepared to receive. Norway has accepted 2,325 Kosovars; the Netherlands, 1,626; Austria, 1,299; and Belgium, 1,205. Of the larger powers, Germany, despite its high unemployment, has continued its generous policy, taking the largest number, almost 10,000. Turkey is next with over 6,000, while France has sheltered 2,354.
The two most striking examples of reticence, however, are Britain and Switzerland. Britain has taken in 330 refugees, while Switzerland has accepted only 33.
When the NATO campaign began and Serbia unleashed its brutal campaign against the Kosovo Albanians in full force, British politicians first recognized the power of pictures of destitute refugees. But although the government used the refugee issue to bolster public opinion in support of NATO's military campaign, it made no serious impact on policy toward refugees.
Switzerland has not fought in a battle for centuries, though many Swiss have profited handsomely from war. But the Swiss do not have the worst record of Albanian refugees evacuated from Macedonia; Iceland has taken only 23 Kosovars.
Western Europe should understand that starting a war has consequences, however unpalatable that might be. The evacuation of 28,000 refugees out of 200,000 still in Macedonia is a poor showing by a wealthy continent that is part of the world's most powerful military alliance.