Tirana 3 July 1999
I woke up this morning by the noise of a goat which our landlord was
killing in our garden. It was hanging on the line where we dry our
clothes and he was in the middle of undressing the goat by the time
that I really was so awake that I was able to understand what he was
doing. Doing this he was smoking his cigarettes and the dog was
standing at his feet waiting until he started to take out the things
which human beings don't want to eat. On the way to the UNICEF
warehouse later (later more about that) I passed the animal market, I
wrote something about the zoo in Tirana, but this is really worse. I
almost got used, the past few months, to how people carry live sheep
around as if they were plastic bags with waste. But this place was a pure violation
of any animal rights, compared to this an animal transport in the
west is a five star hotel. And not only that but in the middle of the
traffic, the dust, the mud, people were slaughtering goats and sheep. I
never passed this street on this time of the day but I was always
surprised that it smells like the slaughterhouse I used to work in as
student, but there was no slaughterhouse here. The street is the
slaughterhouse, I found out now. So what I smelled before and what I
could believe only when I saw it was indeed mud mixed with blood. I am
so glad that I don't eat meat. The volunteer from Slovenia who was with
me put it straight before I came to Albania I had dreams how we could
help this country, but how to describe this country if you never have
been here, you can't since you can´t describe the smell, to know
Albania you have to smell it.
In Dutch we have the expression that rats are leaving a sinking ship, I
don't want to consider refugees as rats, but they are, for sure, leaving
a sinking ship at this moment. Law and order in this
country have totally collapsed in the last 10 days it seems. If there were any in the first place. Looting, robbing and stealing from refugee camps and refugees, killing other members from other maffia
gangs or families, it seems to be all over the country at this moment.
The Mullet refugee camp where we have been working for five weeks now, and
which was just becoming a place of peace and rest - the security was getting
better all the time, soldiers learned their protection job in these two
months - is now empty. The way it was emptied was not really peaceful.
The army took over control of the camp. That means that first they
didn't allow any local staff to come in. Later when the
Norwegian People Aid staff arrived they didn't got entry to
the camp either. After 15 minutes of discussion they finally were allowed to
go in. There they saw that the army was in the middle of transporting
everything out of their warehouse. They had already anticipated that
they would have to close the camp suddenly and that it would perhaps be hard to get
security after all the refugees had left, so they had been transporting
all the expensive stuff out in the last days. But still enough was left
and they saw how soldiers were dismantling the toilets, taking out all
the hot water boilers and copper pipes. Loading the generator and all
Then they saw some people from UNCHR who were in the camp in order to find out
which people from this camp would be evacuated to Kosov@ and when. They
wanted to call them for help, but were stopped with guns pointed at
their heads. The commanding officer said that he wanted to have the
keys of their office and their vehicle. This all via the NPA translator
of course, which is a girl from the camp. They refused, but then the
commander said that the soldiers had to load their guns, put a bullet
straight to shot, point their guns again on the heads of the NPA people
and that if they didn't give their keys, they should shoot. At this, of
course, the NPA people reacted by giving the keys.
Then they were left alone and they could talk with the UNHCR people, who
immediately called the Tirana office and 30 minutes later the official
UNHCR arrived, together with the head of NPA. They discussed with the
soldiers for a while. All this time in the background one of the other
officers was discussing with others very heatedly, obviously against the
looting of the camp. And others just went on loading everything they
could find and that was of some value on to their trucks. After half an hour
the NPA got the keys back from their car, but immediately after UNHCR
had left the story started again.
The end of the story was that UNHCR came back, got the key back as well
as the permission to transport all the remaining refugees, about 150,
out of the camp to Hamailay 2 near Kukes. Including the Dutch
homeopathic lady who was standing with her camper on the parking lot
in front of the camp. When our volunteers arrived this morning at the
camp as normal, not knowing what had happened, the soldiers explained
them that everybody had left, but not how that happened.
I coincidentally met the campleader somewhere else today, he was still
trying to get over the shock. He expected a lot but this was too much
for him. He is happy that it is all over now, and wants to go home
soon. Also in Hamailay were they stayed they heard gunshots all over the
place last night. And Hamailay 1, the camp of the Spanish, or that is
Hamailay 3, it doesn't really matter, is also nearly empty and the local
police has started to take everything that is worth something back
home. The refugees of all these camps will be brought to Rushbull 2 the
Italian army camp, where they have been building all the time, and which
is a bit more protected since the Italian army is in command.
Besides, what's more, what is happening with this looting is idiotic.
It's not just costing a lot of money and making the camps insecure.
But the whole thing is that most organisations had planned to
give all the things to Albania anyway, not to private persons like is
happening now, but to the state in order to help schools, hospitals and homes for the
elderly. At this moment Albania is becoming rather impopular, or rather these people who are
looting are making Albania rather impopular, in the rest of the world.
Why should we support a bunch of criminals?
Apart from all the above, this NPA camp leader told me about his experiences with
the first official refugee transport organised by UNHCR two days ago. The train
coming from Durres that morning, ordered by UNHCR for 500 people, was big
enough for about 320. It was the usual, near-collapsing train one can find
driving throughout this country. On the station there were people from CRS
doing a great job getting food to the refugees, but UNHCR was only
there with one person, who immediately asked the NPA people to help. Since
the train was on the other end of the station, somewhere at a backtrack
and all people had to go over five or so tracks to come there. And
hardly anybody was there to help them transport all their stuff.
At this moment UNHCR is not following its own guidelines anymore, being
that people with special needs should not be brought back to Kosov@,
as there is nobody there to take care of them. In the chaos on the station
they couldn't do that anymore so they just took everybody. That means also
mothers alone with five or even ten kids. And this is happening also with all
other transports not organised by UNHCR. Everybody wants to go back to
Kosov@. Even if their area hasn't been declared safe, under the pressure of
the returning refugees KFOR (NATO) has declared three more areas safe, but
informally they let it be known that none of the areas are actually safe, not
the ones they had declared safe before either.
But considering the situation in Albania most people think it is safer for
the refugees to be taken back to Kosov@. This is a paradox in itself,
since Kosov@ is not safe, it's only been declared safe because otherwise they
couldn't transport all the people back. Security is the major problem in Albania.
The local policeforce, the Albanian army and private security firms
have turned out not to be as trustworthy as expected. And AFOR hasn't
got the mandate to protect people in refugee camps. I don't know if
this news is arriving in the West, or are all the newspapers and
television stations so blind that they don't see what is going on?
Are they so happy that people return to Kosov@ so quickly that they
can't see what is actually going on?
Or are we as western countries so happy that this crisis is kind of over,
happy to close the book Albania and leave it before the next
internal crisis starts? I can't see the point of having so many NATO
troops around and still not even secure the way stations and refugee camps.
For which confrontation are those NATO politicians afraid? Every aid
worker in this country can see with his own eyes what is going on and
nothing really happens. Sorry for coming out so strong on this today, but
I think it becomes time that somebody speaks out.
If you read all this you may understand that I consider the Albanian
kids as traumatised as the kids from Kosov@ and we are considering on the
one hand to go to help in Kosov@ soon, but on the other hand we see that
Albania needs maybe even more help. This can't go on this way, this
country has to be normalized before things become like in 1997 again.
The actual story today wasn't that glorious, the truck we organised
with the Saudi's came four and a half hours later than planned. The Saudi's weren't to blame for this by the way, they were great and offered us more help
if we'd need it. But it was the driver who just did something else in the
meantime, and forgetting that 5 UNICEF people and 10 of our volunteers
were just waiting and waiting and waiting. So when the truck finally
came it was much smaller than planned and could hardly transport the
things UNICEF had in its warehouse for us, although actually half of what we
were promised wasn't there anyway. In the end we had to leave the babyfood offered by
AMURT behind there. I am not sure if I am going to report
it to the people of the Saudi Joint relief. Because they were very
For the rest I joined a UNICEF meeting on mine-awareness where we were
praised into heaven for the energy the Balkan Sunflowers volunteers are
putting into their work. A small UNICEF delegation visited some of the
way stations and says that we were everywhere. The negative message is
that UNHCR and CARE are planning to close the way stations on monday
if AFOR is not upgrading the security.
When people from Germany phoned today I asked them what was in their
papers about this region and they told me that the papers basically say
that many refugees are returning. And that five new judges have been appointed
in Den Haag to investigate the things which happened in Kosov@. But
for the rest not a word about the situation now in Albania. This is
what makes me "angry". However are the politicians able to make AFOR
move, if the news in the home countries is just not reporting on the
reality. Even here in the local newspapers people can't read about it.
I often wrote before the real interesting things from a war or a crisis
are not in the middle but around it.
The around it in this case is what happens for example in this country. Maybe
it is not big news. Maybe it is just a story for page 4 or so, but
what is happening is still real. And this country is not stable, it got
some stability in the last months, I have written it before, the
refugee crisis in Kosov@ was good for Albania, the question is now how
far can Albania fall back?
And really, I like this country, I feel sorry for it.....
ps the evening sky from my balcony is beautiful, I am looking at some
nice white sculpture in the air, a bit looking like the David statue in
Italy, which is light-red now because the sun is going down.