Tirana 21 June 1999
Hallo again, the exodus is growing with the day, since last
weekend when people started to move from the Mullet camp, already
600 people have left, that is half of the camp, and it is
almost the same in the other centers in Tirana. Every morning
at 3 o'clock people are starting to move. Those who the day before had still said they were going to stay for another week or so too. Somehow it is impossible to convince people
that if they wait one or two weeks more they will be returned by NATO, with
their tents and their goods, for free. And that they
will be taken to safe areas, which will have been cleared of mines.
In the last week at least 93.000 people left across the Morina
border and 15.000 over the other small borderpost in the north, the
movement is going on day and night. From the rest of Albania it
is estimated some 75.000 people have moved up to Kukes in the
last four days. Jamming up every road going north with tractors
and small buses. People are leaving behind almost everything they have gotten over the last two months, since those without own transport can't take all that stuff with them in the minibuses
(for which they have to pay amounts of up to 500 dollar to drive
to Przen or Djakovica) and in the Yugos and tractors there is
also no room left to take anything else than what they had
when they came here.
Others who have a bit of money left, and a small truck or something, you can see
on the bazaars buying stoves and cooking gear, most of them
haven't been supplied with that stuff up to now, so they are
using their last money to get at least the most necessary things
together. They might not have a house yet when they go back,
but the Kosovars are in a way well organised in surviving.
They needed to be for such a long time, that they have gotten used to get
their things organised themselves. It became clear that most
refugees in host families have been paying rent in the last two
months. UNHCR reports say that up to 90% of the refugees who
stayed in host families in the Durres-Tirana area have been
paying something like 150-200 dollars per family per month. And
that mostly for one room shared by five to ten people. This is a lot higher
than what was known up to now. It was known that this was done,
but up to now it wasn't known to which extent and how much.
This is one of the reasons that suddenly so many people start
to move, they simply can't afford to stay any longer.
On the other hand it is understandable that people in Albania
are trying to make some money, since living in Albania is not easy, it is
also basically surviving, living from one month to another.
There is not much future. Now for example six billion dollars are there
to rebuild Kosov@, but how much money will be there to help
Albania? Until now only 24 big NGO's have committed themselves to staying in
Albania and helping with the developement here. The UN bodies are
really pushing NGO's to help getting Albania on its way as well,
explaining that all those NGO's should inform their donors
that it may be easier to get money for Kosov@, and maybe even
for Serbia, but that it is as much needed here, maybe even
more. Since the six billion dollars now allocated to
Kosov@ is far too much, considering the damage. Of course the first thing on people's minds is to help a war-destroyed country, but there are a lot of war-destroyed countries in this area. Think
of Bosnia, of Croatia, think of Serbia, Macedonia (no war, but their economical breakdown is
almost as big) and think of Albania (they had a civil war raging in the country only two years ago and even without that war the situation was far from glorious).
The spontaneous return is overwhelming everybody, it's like an UNHCR
spokesman said: "The message of stay and be quiet for some
more days, didn't really come across". He just returned from
the border at Morina, and had to say that he had never seen such happy
people as the ones passing that border into Kosov@. And that he
was glad that he could share that happiness. But it is not
always so simple to be, knowing that those people are going back to an
unsafe area. The reports of people killed by mines are getting
more frequent every day. So far more than seventeen died and the number of
casualties is much, much higher. Mine-awareness actions are now
the most important things to be done. Even internationals are
not taking the danger seriously enough, since otherwise the
casualties wouldn't have been that high. Also on the side of
Today also the first group of volunteers have left the country,
and are now on their way home. Kathy, who wanted to stay longer, but
who broke her foot, Mike, the one with the guitar, who was a
big help for the doctors down in Vlore, and Gary, who has been
working in Macedonia before he came here and has been cooking
for us the last 2 1/2 weeks, it was like we were living in a four star
hotel. The three left this evening for Bari and by tomorrow
they will be on their way to the States, far far away from this
place, from the chaos. But it was hard, really hard for them to
go. Mike kept on saying how he never had realised that you
could build up such deep contacts so quickly. If he would been
able, he would have liked to stay for weeks and weeks more. He
kept on promising all the refugees in Vlora to come by next
summer and visit them in Kosov@.
This is what happens, even when it is a bit of a chaos here, too,
as we have to improvise as we go, all the volunteers are telling
how grateful the refugees have been to them. That is what it
is all about. The last days of their stay here in Albania are
going to be the best they had, they are leaving Albania with a
good feeling. And the kids will have new toys and
teddybears to take home with them.
At the UNHCR briefing today CRS (Catholic Relief Service) apologised to all the international organisations. They had been delivering their telephone books, in which all
the names of refugees are more or less openly registrated, at one
of the many on-line tracing databases. These books were wrapped
up in old misprints of the Koran in Albanian. They obviously
used the same printers as the Islamic organisations do and the
Albanian printers used the misprints to wrap the books for CRS.
They, CRS, said that this was not meant to be that way. They
consider the Koran as holy as the Bible and would also feel offended
if the books had been wrapped up in misprints of the
Bible. That's how it goes around here.
In the evening I tried to explain to the newly arriving volunteers a
bit in which kind of country they had arrived. And that is not easy,
because where do you start. Basically you start explaining that
everything somebody takes for normal is not normal here. That
everything they have seen on television is just a small window
on what the reality actually is. That all the awareness-building actions abroad are not following the reality. That it maybe seems, upon arrival, that we are a bit chaotic, but that
that's normal here, since we are only a bit chaotic, whereas outside of our building the real chaos is so much bigger.
PS the coming 3 days I will be busy setting up the way
stations in the north, I will be up there without email
possibilities. So don't be afraid, if the diary is not
coming, by friday I will be back in Tirana and writing. I will also
bring photos back of the way stations. So I hope nobody
will be angry at me that there is no diary.
By the way our financial situation is killing us, we are
practically living on refugees supplies.