Aid groups move refugees away from borders
April 22, 1999
KUKES, Albania (CNN) -- A break in the waves of human misery that have swept over Yugoslavia's borders has given relief workers the chance to move Kosovo's refugees to safer places in Albania and Macedonia.
The few Kosovars who entered Albania on Wednesday reported hundreds following behind them, and relief workers fear tens of thousands more are heading for the frontier. In Albania, trucks and buses have been able to move more than 20,000 refugees away from Kukes, toward the capital Tirana and the port city of Durres, over the past three days.
"In order to be ready for the new influx of refugees, we want to move these people towards the south, where they will have better facilities," said Roxana Jafari, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Refugees in one group, from the town of Estog, said they had been on the move for almost three weeks. They brought with them familiar stories of looting and evictions from central Kosovo. Many arrived with little more than the clothes they were wearing.
Adding to the strain in the refugee camps is the fear of border skirmishes between Albanian troops -- or the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army -- and Yugoslav army forces.
"The last thing we want is for mortar shells or artillery shells to start dropping in on these refugee camps," said Ray Wilkinson, a UNHCR official in Kukes.
Despite the potential danger, some are reluctant to leave this border area. They are waiting for news of relatives inside Kosovo. But after a week in the cold, muddy camps, others are ready for a change of scenery.
"I hope it will be better," Ayshiya Bisharat, a refugee, said. "It is hard to live without warm water, without being able to change your clothing."
In Macedonia, few refugees moving out
A year of ethnic strife and a reported Yugoslav campaign against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo has prompted more than 600,000 people to flee the embattled Serbian province. Albania has taken in more than 350,000 of those, while Macedonia has taken in another 130,000.
In Macedonia, more than 42,000 refugees have registered for transfers to a third country. But those being evacuated are merely a trickle compared to those who have come in. The volume of refugees has tested the tolerance of both the Macedonian people and their government.
"We are working on moving these people to Turkey and to Austria," said Simona Opitz, of the International Organization for Migration. "We are also going to start moving them to Sweden and to Norway in close cooperation with UNHCR. So this is the best way to alleviate the burden on this particular camp and on other camps in the region at the moment."
Ultimately, however, most of the refugees want to return home.
"We cannot stay here anymore, but I don't think I can start a new life in Turkey, either," one man said. "I want to go back home again, even if my house is burnt to the ground."
A Greek truck convoy carrying 40 tons of food and medicine, along with several doctors, is waiting for NATO clearance to enter Kosovo, said a spokeswoman for the Greek office of the humanitarian aid group Doctors of the World.
The convoy already has received a visa from Yugoslav authorities and is awaiting permission to cross into Yugoslavia from Macedonia, spokeswoman Mary Catherine Riedmatten said.
The aid mission would be the fourth trip by Doctors of the World into Kosovo. Last Friday, a convoy from the group delivered 25 tons of food and medicine and three doctors to the only hospital still operating in the provincial capital, Pristina. Doctors said there were 120 patients being treated, including war casualties and others.
Correspondents Jane Arraf, Matthew Chance and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIAL SECTION:
Milosevic opens door to new peace talks on Kosovo
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