Kosovo refugee children try to cope with their trauma
May 6, 1999
From Correspondent Nic Robertson
Recently arrived from Kosovo, Hamide explains how her eldest son was forced at gunpoint by Serb police to hand over all their money -- and how the rest of her children watched.
Besnik remembers it well, too.
"When we were trying to see, the police threatened us," he said. "My mother and sister were afraid."
At a school in the camp, Besnik and the other children of the Kosovo diaspora exchange their tales of terror.
Nura describes how she saw Serb police take a young woman away. "They killed her," she said. "Then they killed her four more times."
She meant that they shot her four more times, but her age prevents her understanding.
At the ages of 12 and 13, most of the children here are still too young to grasp what they've been through.
"They feel like they have to speak with someone for that experience, for that bad experience," said Ismet Tahiri, their English teacher.
Between classes, they play to let off steam, which Tahiri hopes will help them heal.
Tahiri is also a refugee, and the group Doctors Without Borders is training him and other teachers to learn how to help their charges get over the trauma.
"With children, they don't really have that much of a life to reflect back on," said Christina Moore of Doctors Without Borders. "Getting a perspective is therefore much more difficult."
The scale of the problem is huge. Aid officials expect that more than 80 percent of those fleeing Kosovo will have some kind of trauma. Of those already in Albania, they expect as many as 60,000 are at risk of severe disturbance.
"When my child is next to me, I must be strong," Hamide said. "When he leaves, I cry."
Their experience has wounded the whole family just when aid officials say Besnik needs his mother the most.
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