Kosovo refugee exodus 'straight out of Schindler's List'
April 2, 1999
GENEVA (CNN) -- The U.N. refugee agency said Friday the mass exodus of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo has reached "nightmare proportions," as thousands of people kept crossing into Albania, Macedonia and the Yugoslav province of Montenegro.
"The situation is absolutely dramatic, it's reaching nightmare proportions," said Judith Kumin, spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UNHCR estimated that, over the past 10 days, more than 220,000 people have fled or have been expelled from the Serb province.
Thousands of refugees were transported to the Macedonian border by train or were put aboard buses and driven close to the Albanian border and then made to walk.
Some refugees told CNN correspondents they had been walking for days, with no possessions except what they could carry with them or put on a tractor-pulled carts.
The European Union's humanitarian affairs commissioner Emma Bonino, who visited the region to coordinate aid efforts, expressed shock at the "mass deportations."
"We are faced with mass deportations. These pictures of trains arriving...they are pictures straight out of 'Schindler's List'," she told a news conference in Brussels Wednesday.
Bonino also said that, "all the witness reports we do receive suggest that there are massacres going on, that people are being eliminated, that there is ethnic cleansing going on."
The Yugoslav government of President Slobodan Milosevic has denied these allegations, saying the ethnic Albanian refugees are fleeing the fighting between government troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army, or are killed in cross fire.
According to the UNHCR, at least 120,000 refugees have fled to Albania, 70,000 to Macedonia and 31,000 to Montenegro.
The Albanian government on Friday described the situation at the main border crossing of Morina and the main reception center in Kukes as dramatic.
"In Kukes district, the situation has become absolutely critical," Information Minister Musa Ulqini said on television.
"During the night and up to now, the influx of Albanians in need of help arriving from Kosovo has been extraordinary. The situation is rapidly getting worse," Ulqini said.
Prime Minister Pandeli Majko is in contact with other countries, urging that a relief operation launched several days ago be accelerated.
Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro are among the poorest regions in Europe and have all repeatedly appealed for international aid.
Just across the border, blue smoke from a fire could be seen. Refugees said that this fire was the Serb authorities burning passports and identity documents that had been confiscated from ethnic Albanian refugees.
One refugee told CNN he was forced to leave his two sons behind, and a woman said she saw her sons shot and killed by Yugoslav troops.
The UNHCR said two women and two children died on arrival at another crossing point into Albania. The organization said the deaths were likely caused by exhaustion and exposure.
At Morina, nuns were handing loaves of bread to the refugees as they came across the crossing point.
The UNHCR said it and other aid agencies were distributing blankets, bread, water and juice to the masses at the Macedonian border during the night.
Thousands of refugee gathered in the Macedonian village of Blace, next to the border post, waiting for help, trying to understand what had happened to them, and where to go from here.
A total of seven trains have arrived in Blace from the Kosovo capital of Pristina in the past days, according to the UNHCR. It said one train was made up of 30 cars, packed with thousands of people who were made to walk the last few miles across the border.
While international aid is being flown in from all over the world, aid operations and their coordination will be further addressed at two international meetings involving several European nations and all major humanitarian aid organizations next week.
Kosovo being emptied as refugees flood neighboring countries
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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