O nás Pro dárce Pro dobrovolníky Kosovský deník Fotogalerie Odkazy
Tirana Diary 5 July 1999

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 anything.

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 again.

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....

wam :-)

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.

wam :-)