U.N. to airlift aid to refugees in Albania
'Situation is getting worse and worse'
March 30, 1999
"The situation is desperate and it's getting worse and worse by the hour, with thousands more crossing the border from Kosovo into Albania predominantly, but also into Macedonia and Montenegro," said Chris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.
He said the British government had supplied a transport plane, which would shuttle emergency supplies from Denmark into the Albanian capital, Tirana. "This needs to be expanded," Janowski said.
In Kosovo, about 550,000 people have abandoned their homes so far, which is about one quarter of the pre-conflict population in the Serb province, according to the refugee agency.
At least 90,000 have fled to Albania since the start of the NATO airstrikes. Another 9,000 have entered Macedonia in the past few days, and the Yugoslav province of Montenegro now has a total of 75,000 refugees. About 30,000 Serbs in Kosovo have fled toward the Yugoslav capital Belgrade, the UNHCR said.
Kosovo's main border post with Albania, through which refugees had flooded in recent days, was reopened on Tuesday after being shut for 14 hours by Yugoslav guards, and more refugees kept coming Tuesday.
"They need international help to cope," Janowski said in reference to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, which are among the poorest regions in Europe. "It's the biggest emergency we've seen in Europe since the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
The UNHCR showed up in the Albanian city of Kukes with all the food it could muster -- 5,000 loaves of bread and some meals in an attempt to provide some basic assistance to the refugees, Pandora Ketri of the Albanian Red Cross told CNN.
The International Committee of the Red Cross was also contributing to relief efforts in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro, after the ICRC pulled out of Kosovo because of the deteriorating security situation.
The World Food Program and U.N. Children's Fund were also rushing supplies to the area, officials said.
"We need everything," sighed a local UNHCR staffer in Kukes, trying to cope with the refugees early Tuesday.
The European Union announced $11 million in refugee aid for Albania on Tuesday. And an international donor conference to address the refugee crisis in a bigger context was expected in a few days.
The Israeli government on Tuesday announced it would provide emergency refugee aid. And in the United States, charities and humanitarian organizations were also joining in efforts to help those in need in the Balkan region.
The UNHCR said the pattern emerging from the many unconfirmed tales by the refugees was one of "violence, expulsion, sometimes even summary executions and rape."
Petrit Bushati, Albanian ambassador to the United States, said Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic intends to quickly rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population.
"His intention is to expel them, to drive them out and push them into Albania, Macedonia and out of Kosovo," he told CNN.
British Defense Secretary George Robertson accused Milosevic of creating "killing fields" in Kosovo.
Desperate refugees flee Kosovo, accuse Serbs of atrocities
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