O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 26 June 1999

Tirana 26 June 1999

Almost ten days ago we received a positive reaction from UNHCR about some big tents we had applied for. We had applied for three tents for the camp in Mullet, where at that moment some 2000 refugees were staying, the hospital had been leaving, but new docters were found and the place where the field hospital was, was perfect to install a kind of activity center in. They promised to bring the tent the same day, but later they phoned that they couldn't make it, they would come at noon the next day, and that went on for about five days (the reasons they gave were great, the dutch army crane broke down, the danish transport truck had a flat tire, the Italian driver didn't knew were it was, etc), then we didn't hear anything anymore. Then two days ago they phoned again, the tents were there now and they had everything fixed, if they were still needed, at that moment the amount of refugees in Mullet was already down to 600, but the camp management thought it was great if they still came, so we said yes, finally today they phoned that the delivery would take place this morning. Now there are only 200 refugees in Mullet and half of the buildings and all the small tents are empty, so I said that it was too late. But the guy on the other side said that the truck had already left. Later today he phoned again, the camp management didn't want the tents, if I would like them somewhere else. I explained him that I didn't have any need for the tents anymore, and he kept on asking were he had to bring his tents and if I didn't want some more, he had some really nice ones coming in and nobody wants to have them. I finally agreed with him that I will call him later next week, otherwise I would have got all of them in our house or something. Sometimes these warehouse guys have become kind of out of touch with reality. For months you are begging for tents and there are none and then suddenly they have them in all sizes and are pushing them onto you and you really have to struggle to make them clear that we don't have refugees anymore to put in those tents.

Yes, all that happened in ten days, in such a short period of time. Ten days ago NGO's were still fighting to get help for their camps and others here in big camps in Tirana were fighting to get the honour of a certain activity. Big training seminars were planned to train local people to help refugees and most of those seminars will start somewhere next week, when the last students have their exams. Suddenly it all seems so unreal. All those estimations that it would take at least a few months before all the people would start returning and a few months more to get them all back in Kosov@. Last monday in one of the shelter meetings of UNHCR it was still predicted that at least 150.000 refugees would stay here for the winter, if you look now there are not even 150.000 refugees left in the country it seems. And the funny thing is that winterised refugee camps are still being built. Sometimes I have this black humour that I start to believe that they are not building refugee centers for the Kosovars anymore, but that somebody is already planning the next flow of refugees, from Macedonia for example. Or something crazy like that. I know that you just can´t stop the work so easily, but on the other hand it makes no sense to keep on building when enough winterised places are already standing empty. Maybe they should just ask those construction companies to build a school or so, or renew some hospitals instead.

When I was visiting IRC shortly yesterday I experienced the problems that I have on a small scale on a big one. For example my computer guy left last week to see his house in Djakovica and didn't return, now he sent some friend to collect his wages. My female bookkeeper wants to leave on monday and my other office worker wants to leave in 14 days, we just had the team together and suddenly they are gone. At IRC it was 125 teachers in different schools they are responsible for, who have already gone and are now sending relatives or friends to the IRC office to collect their payment. And a lot of their office staff from Kosov@ also left. In the last months more and more NGO's started to hire Kosovars who lived in host families instead of Albanians. Basically because the Kosovars were more involved in the crisis and knew their own people better and could more easily communicate with them than Albanians could. And also because they needed the money to pay their rents. Now they are returning and new office staff has to be hired, but the Albanians, not fools, know that most of the NGO's will leave soon, so they are only willing to work on contracts of six months or more. Explaining that they are willing to work in Kosov@ as well. I already agreed with my office staff that when we come to Kosov@ we really would like to hire them again, so I am in a big fight with myself what I should do now. And we are lucky enough to be a small organisation, in the big NGO's these questions are 10 or more times bigger, also with respect to the money involved.

In the meantime I figured out an emergency plan of how to continue the upcoming weeks. Finding something useful to do for all our volunteers, helping there where we are needed. We know that we are not able to set up long-term activities with refugees anymore, but at least we can do our best giving them a good time the last days or weeks that they are here. Through the children we maybe are able to stress the need to wait until things in Kosov@ are a bit less chaotic. Furthermore the parents have to decide if they are staying or going and that is not an easy decision, children hanging around all the time are not making it simpler to decide and to pack, so we give them free room to talk with each other, without the children. That is our function now. Furthermore I really would like to stay with Balkan Sunflowers a bit longer in Albania. There is enough work to do here as well. One being for example very simple: to help rebuilding a (few) schools. From my balcony I look at the school next to our house and I still can't imagine that children actually are going to school there, but I have seen it every day with my own eyes. Inside the building the situation is even worse, no proper benches or anything. And this is even a good school compared with the building I have seen in Rreshen, about which nothing has been done since 1962, the water from the second floor toilets is dripping through the ceiling on the first floor and that is just one small example.

And it is good when it is done in cooperation with international volunteers since it is not only the building which has to be changed, it is also the view people have of the West. Most of the western organisations just send money, and local constructors do the rest, in this way people are not really getting into contact with people from the west. Thinking we are all rich and big money spenders, that we are living in golden houses and driving luxurious cars and it'd be good if that picture would be changed quickly, since it influences the way of thinking of young people here. So a project in this country could be international workcamps building up the schools here together with local young people. Of course we are not the most effective constructors, but we are good "embassadors" of the real life in the west and in other parts of the world for that matter.

So far for Albania. This evening I had a meeting with BJ and Lynette, both old Pakrac volunteers, both leaving for Kosov@ tomorrow. They were looking happy, the real rebuilding work starts. They actually pushed me to come with them, but in order to do that I would need somebody or a few people here to take up and continue my job here, and I haven't got these people together thusfar. We were talking about what could be done in Kosov@, especially the northern part sounds interesting to me. In this part Serbs are returning and in some towns a real divide between Serbs and Kosovars is taking place. And that is the work I know. I have done that kind of reconciliation work for almost three years in Pakrac. So I have some mixed feelings at this time. I know that we are so close to the work, but I don't know from where we could get the funding to actually set up a totally new structure in Pristina. That it will work is something I am sure of.

I also went to the airport of Tirana today to pick up some new volunteers, the chaos was as big as always. The road to the airport is even worse than it was before, only about 500 meters has now been redone by NATO and that part is perfect, but the rest is more hopeless than it ever was before. When I arrived there were at least some parts which still had asphalt, those are gone completely now. It is like a dirt track, when a car drives in front of you you can`t see a thing.

Our driver found a shortcut, he used the bridge which is closed, since it is so broken that it is actually not safe anymore. But a few weeks ago some people removed one of the concrete blocks on both sides, so now taxi drivers are starting to use it again. Not a particularly safe feeling being on that bridge knowing that it is actually closed because it can break down any moment, and that is indeed the feeling you get on that bridge. So a nice welcome for our first french volunteer, welcome to Albania, this is what bridges are look like.

The situation on the airport hasn't changed much either, still the normal chaos. Waiting until you see blue and all other colours of the rainbow. Four or five airplanes coming in at the same time and over 300 or more people getting through the customs. They have been replaced now by nice young girl, who writes faster, not the old guys who were there when Adela and I came in, but still the procedure is almost the same. If you are waiting outside in the hot sun you think that you will die soon.

In the evening we made up the new plans for coming week, who is going to work where. Basically we continue the old projects in Tirana, we are lucky (strange expression at this time) that most of the places in which we are working with refugees are not 'running out of them' so quickly, although in Mullet the situation is now that there are only 200 refugees left there, and last night some people broke into the camp storage place (not refugees) and somebody was even driving around in the almost empty place with his car doing at least 60 km per hour. The next morning more families decided to go. This happened although the camp security is now more alert. And stories like this are heard all over the country. We are in the middle of the fastest refugee return in the last 25 years, let's hope it is a happy one....

wam :-)