Tirana 5 July 1999
In the early morning I went to the train station to see this official
repatriation from UNHCR and NATO (AFOR) with my own eyes. Today a group
from at least 500 people from Tirana should be leaving. So it could become a
real big movement at the station. When I arrived at the station I really had
to search where this huge operation is taking place. The amount of UNHCR
people was increased now and in the "hall" the officials were sitting
behind their desks. But this time the refugees let them down, instead of
the planned 500 only 76 showed up. So for the first time the operation went
without huge problems.
This by the way doesn't mean that the country is almost empty by now, but
that the Saudi Arabians have thusfar been more effective and trustworthy for the refugees with their return activities than the UNHCR and AFOR repatriation. Up to now the AFOR/UNHCR have repatriated 2270 people and the Saudies almost 500 per night for almost more than a week now. Besides
from the almost 22.000 people in their own camps, whom they basically also
all have supported with their returning.
By the way there are a lot of organisations who repatriate the people from
their camps. Not always so successful and well-organised though. One
organisation totally forgot that there are police hours in Kosov@, after
8.30 pm it is basically forbidden to be on the streets anywhere in Kosov@.
It brought their people home in a way that they arrived
at 1.00 am in Pristina which created a serious problem and almost a riot. It
also meant they drove seriously endangered people through the night
through Kosov@ through parts which are absolutely not secure at night,
because of snipers.
Other organisations brought people just as far as Prizen, dropped them off
their busses and trucks and returned. Also not that effective, for sure if
you bring handicapped, single mothers and old people. It makes offering of relief for these people on the other side of the line not so easy. So UNHCR
was asking again and again not to do any organised repatriation without
them at least knowing about it. The NGOs in Kosov@ are not really ready yet
and every "problem" less at this moment makes it easier for them to get
their act together.
The normalisation hasn't started yet in Kosov@, even when you get the
feeling that the rest of the world thinks that when the refugees are now
going back the problem is solved. Some countries even start to shift their
activities from the department of crisis help to the deparment of
development aid. And that means for example that the kind of help and the
bureaucracy involved for those countries is getting bigger. It is also clear
that huge humanitarian actions like those that took place in the last months, or rather
three months ago for the refugee influx to Macedonia and Albania won't take
place again to rebuild Kosov@. A spokesman from a Dutch organisation was a
bit sceptical about the willingness of the world to help in the same way in
Kosov@ as help has been given to for example Bosnia, or maybe even to Serbia in the
near future. The crisis was too short to really make an impact.
In fact there is still no real infrastructure set up in Kosov@, telephones
may work in Pristina, but the rest of the country is pretty unreachable
with normal telephones. But that is the same here in Albania for that
matter, I have tried for example for days to reach the satphones on the CARE
waystation, but already at the access code for the satphones a nice
recorded Albanian lady told me that the number doesn't exist, although
you can phone those numbers from nearly anywhere else in the world. And
phoning from Albania to Kosov@ is a drag, there were never a lot of telephone
connections between the two countries, and now you seem to be phoning via
Italy and Beograd. Nevertheless people in Turkey don't seem to have a big
problem to contact Pristina, so we are getting all the news via people
there, families from refugees here.
In fact outside the bigger cities there is nothing really in place in
Kosov@ and it will take some time before it will be there. So talking about
a crisis that is over is not really reflecting actual reality. Even when the
newspapers in your homes don't talk about it and they don't talk about
Albania anymore it doesn't mean the crisis has stopped. It means as always
that the eyes of the world have moved to another place, there is just a
clean-up to do here. And that is not world news even when that clean-up
will take as long as in the rest of the Balkans. Who is writing nowadays
about Croatia or about Bosnia for that matter?
Talking about clean-ups. Today the UNHCR released its guidelines for the
environmentally responsible manner to close down a refugee camp. Very
important but a little late, some campmanagements have already left and
they left their camps in a hurry because of security problems. I don't
think they are coming back there to see how they can environmentally properly close down
their camp. Practically the first lines of this document say 'It is
unacceptable to pay money to the owner of the land to rehabilitate the camp
and leave it to the owner to do so. The basic reason why it is
unacceptable to do it that way is that most owners are reluctant to handle
the refugees' waste.' With other words they take the money, but wouldn't do
So in between the lines I have been writing from time to time some things
about the environment, but not much so far. Let's say that my first cynical
reaction to this guideline was, honestly speaking, that I made a joke about
it to the one sitting next to me, saying that if these UNHCR guidelines will be taken
seriously at least we'll have 900 envoronmentally clean spots
in the country. That would be a great improvement in this country. Since
environment is not getting particularly much attention in this country.
Let's just, to explain a little more, quote something from this
guideline: "For example, it is desirable to dispose of solid waste in
landfills which are properly designed and managed." However, there are no
such landfills in Albania. To establish such a landfill for a refugee camp
woud be taking the risk of the host country asking "why the refugees are being
looked after to a better standard than its citizens." Next part: "It is
accepted that using existing solid-waste disposal areas is an expedient
procedure which will add to the load of pollutants in Albania.
Nevertheless, since there has already been environmental degradation
brought by the current solid-waste treatment practices, the additional
impact should be relatively small." In other words just dump your trash
were everybody is dumping it, or am I getting the point wrong?
Just one more line: "the rehabilitation must be sustainable. The usage of
the land must be capable of continuing indefinitely." "The simplest means
of ensuring this is to restore the land to its former use. However, this is
not always feasible, and may not even be desirable." With other words if
you built your camp on a waste dump, please don't turn it into a waste dump
Of course it is easy to joke around with all of this and they make it in a
way very easy for us to joke with it. In the last months that Kosov@ was
closed, journalists were piling up in Macedonia and Albania to wait and
to be the first ones to go in and make the best-selling stories. They
of course found some stories to make, so you probably heard a lot about the
chaos in the camps. And it wouldn't be nice for me to not admit that a good
work has been done here. In the end Albania was ready to receive every
Kosovar and provide him or her with all their needs - just at the moment
that they started to return, but who could have known that.
Very brown, very active, and very noisy, that was the arrival of the last
three volunteers from Vlore. They had still been working in the Vlore
region up to yesterday, especially active in the last weeks with
mine-awareness training in all the camps in the Vlore region. They were
doing it together with the Belgian army, the army did it for the adults and
Balkan Sunflowers for the kids. They made a small theatre play out of it,
which made the story understandable even for the really little ones.
By doing this mine-awareness training they have been all over the region
suddenly, before they only were in Vlore itself, but now the Belgian army
took them to all camps and bigger groups within 50 km of Vlore. Most of
the camps were already getting empty and the inhabitants would later be brought to the
Arcobeleno camp, which is still almost half-full, but since it is staffed
with 500 Italians also very well protected, by Italian police. Although
still no social activities were done in the Arcobeleno camp they
decided to leave Vlore nevertheless, it is a bit crazy to work with three people on
social programmes when there are a few hundred paid volunteers from
Italy sitting around doing nothing.
They should get their act together in Italy and start to understand that
taking care of the refugees as if they were not able to
do anything themselves is not the way it should be done. Refugees, although
maybe tramatised, are not ill. At least not in the sense that you should
treat them in a way as if they are not able to do anything themselves.
Like cooking their own food, cleaning their tents and the camp, helping with organising in the
camp - these are all things which make people feel useful, and in the
long run help against forming new traumas. Sitting, waiting and getting
your food three times a day, moreover food on which you don't have
influence of what it will be. Even the best 4-star restaurant will get
boring, especially if you have to eat food from a different cultural
environment as your own. Nothing better after a while as home-cooked food
from mothers, or....
ps by the way I have heard that the tourist season in Croatia has suffered
a lot from this last Balkan crisis. Somehow people still seem to be unaware that Kosov@ is not lying in Croatia, but is only, like Croatia, part of the
former Yugoslavia - and that when NATO is bombing Yugoslavia, they are
bombing the part which is still called Yugoslavia, not Croatia.
pss some idiot was just shooting about 50 meters from the Sunflower house,
just around the corner in Rr. Musil Shyri, I saw the bullets going up from
my balcony, it is three o'clock in the night so I hope not everybody has been
waken up now, at least the dogs are.