O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 27 June 1999

Tirana 27 June 1999

Sunday is not always a sunday in a crisis area. And that, this area is for sure, especially since we are living in the midst of the biggest and fastest refugee return in at least the last 25 years, maybe more. It means that we, (inter)national aid workers, are running behind the facts. The Kosovars voted with their feets, they want to be in their home country, not next month, but now. This morning six volunteers left the house, they are going to work at the way stations in Puke, Shemri and under Lezhe (in the Danish refugee camp). At the same time an ever bigger amount of people arrived in order to be trained in the camps here in Tirana and prepare themselves for working on the two other stations in Rreshen and Gojan, which are going to be opened in a few days, when the official return will start.

Anyway at the station in Shemri they went through some big things, most of the Kosovar youth who came with us up on wednesday already had to leave since their parents wanted to leave for Kosov@. When we left they had still wanted to wait another week, but now everybody is leaving they want to go as well. Suddenly the whole situation up there changed. On friday the camp of the campmanagement was destroyed by an American army helicopter which landed on the waystation, just to give a short message to some other American soldiers working on the road there. The tent was blown away and his satellite phone was damaged in this action somehow.

On saturday afternoon an UNHCR car (with a local driver) went too fast through the village and hit a ten year-old child. The villagers took the child up to the way station hoping to get some help, or at least to show their grief and anger, towards the campmanagement and the UNHCR representative there. But those just went down to the village, together with both the doctors, to see if they could help. So our volunteers were the only ones up there and they got the full load of feelings and complaints. Luckily enough John and some of the Kosovars who could translate what was being said were still there so the volunteers could at least understand what was going on. They were threatened with blood revenge and made responsible for all that happened. The women were crying and telling that their husbands now will beat them all their lives since they didn't take care of the child well enough.

When the official internationals came back they took over and brought the villagers back to Shemri, and the doctors declared that the girl died, or was already dead, when she was taken up. So the representative from CARE brought the dead body in his car back to her family and apologised for what had happened. After he returned all the official internationals, also those of the Salvation Army and THW left for Kukes or someplace, leaving the station in the hands of our volunteers and the Italian army to take care of it during the night. They said they would return the next morning. The north is a hard place it seems. Hopefully we will work something out in the next days.

This is how it goes, we are trying to do what we are able to do, assist where we can, but the big organisations are simply not flexible enough to understand that we are not like them. That we don't have the fancy cars and the funds behind it to just ship all our volunteers through the country like they can. The most incredible reaction we got was that we should have our own security, and cars to be able to move out our volunteers when there is a crisis. I am sorry that I have to write all of this, I'd like to write other stories. But it makes me crazy that all those huge NGO's are driving around in their 4-wheel drives but are not able to help us with transport. Most of these cars are empty, one driver and one aid worker. Besides, when it is not safe for our workers how can it be safe for the refugees who pass by. I mean, what I want to say is that according to the idea of the way stations they are there to protect refugees on their way back to Kosov@. And if NATO, who is involved in the protection of these way stations, is not capable of protecting a couple of internationals, what kind of protection are they giving to the refugees then? I was really surprised by this.

In the afternoon Ramona and I went for a visit of some refugee camps south of Kavaja. They are run by ASB and ASF (from Germany and Denmark), before one hosted almost 1800, now 400, and the other almost 1000, now 80. They asked us if we would be able to work there if they'd put the two camps together. And we agreed to come by and have a look. Coincidentally the Czech organisation "People in need" also had six volunteers in the first camp and wanted to see if they had work enough, otherwise they would withdraw people from there and bring them to the way stations or to Berat, where we just wanted to start working, as there are still 5000 refugees there. So we want to find out why the campmanagement asked us to send four people down, when the Czechs were still there and had nothing to do.

By the way there was another reason to drive down there since Vaclav Havel is in the country today and there was a possibility to meet him or his wife there. But by the time we arrived they had already left for Kosov@. That made Havel the first president of any state visiting Kosov@, although it wasn't really official. Politically speaking he was not allowed to go into Kosov@, because some other important president wants to be the first. But as it happens the German NATO batallion said that they could safeguard his trip. Our driver, who is also the coordinator of "People in need" told us how they organized the trip. Havel was planned to go to Prizen, but when he (the coordinator) visited Prizen some days ago he saw that the town is not that destroyed. So he had to find another village in the neighbourhood which was totally destroyed, otherwise the message that help is needed wouldn't have come across. This sounds a bit crazy but that's how it goes. Humanitarian aid is a market system is what I found so many times in Croatia and Bosnia, you have to present the reality in a way that people give money.

Of course the villages around Prizen are destroyed, like Djakovica and Peja, but the cameras are not going there when the president of the Czech republic is not going there. In order to raise money you have to bring them to an area which shows that help is needed. The villages just outside of Prizen. That is how it works. Just always show what the people back home want to see. The guy told furthermore that he had this strange experience the other day, preparing Havel's trip. His family comes from Bohemia (Sudetenland) and were driven from there by German Nazis in the second world war, the nazis killed lots of Czech people in that area and pushed the other Czech people out (ethnic cleansing). Now this guy drove through an empty Serb village near Prizen behind a German tank (to protect him). He was wondering what his grandmother would say if he told her that story.

We went down via the road over Elbassan, which is a beautiful road through small mountains. Coming down into the valley where Elbassan lays you see this few-square kilometres big steel factory, which was built by the Chinese, but has been lying empty for some time now. From there we took the valley road, which is going back to the coast a little. In Pecin we visited the first big camp, it was a good camp, but now that most of the people left it is very unsafe. This is a major issue at the moment. More and more camps are becoming rather unsafe. Due to the fact that everybody is leaving the security guys (albanian police) are not taking their job seriously anymore and more and more reports of looting and stealing are the result. This is not something special of this camp, it is happening everywhere.

As soon as the number of refugees in this camp reaches a level that it is easy to transport them all, the campmanagement wants to transport them to the other camp which is now almost empty but is lying 10 km further, in an industrial complex which is easier to safeguard. So we agreed with the Czechs that we don't move people there to help but that the Czechs stay there and work in both camps. In the other camp, which I had seen when I passed it driving down to Vlore some days (almost weeks) ago, we met up with a German, who had worked in Laos the five years before. Like all the aidworkers I met the last week he was looking tired and finished. This sudden change took us all by surprise. We are planning now from day to day.

From there we (Ramona and me) went furtheron ourselves. We planned to take a bus or minibus from here. But when we were on the place where the mini- and big buses normally stop, it was explained to us, with hands and feet, that there haven't been so many buses anymore in the last few days, and especially not that late (six o´clock in the evening). Most buses have been rented by Kosovars to drive them back to Kosov@. So the people here at this place, who run all kind of fruit and cigarette kiosks, started to stop every car with Tirana numberplate for us, asking them if they would take us with them. One guy was willing, but wanted 3000 lek for it, and knowing that the bus costs 300 lek I decided to just wait, hoping that somewhere along the line a bus would come. And indeed after about half an hour (and that is a long time here in Albania) a big bus came humping and bumping down the road. Although it is only 60 km from here to Tirana he told Ramona that the drive would take at least two and a half hours (she was rather surprised, whereas I overestimated the travel time with 15 minutes). All the refugee camps which were here along the coastal road, small ones, were gone. The only place where I saw some tents standing was in the camp from ACT on the road from Durres to Tirana, but that one too looked a lot emptier than before. How fast things can change.

wam :-)

ps small party for me, this is the 50th issue of the Tirana diary, not much if you compare it with the Zagreb Diary, but still a nice start.

wam :-)