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Tirana Diary 8 July 1999

Tirana 8 July 1999

The water situation in the house was the first priority on my list today - it may be kind of uninteresting for you out there to know, but when you don't have water and 20 or even more people in one house you start to worry about it a bit. First of all I checked via our translators how big the problem was. It seems that the whole block has no water, including all the bars and restaurants in the block, as well as the police station around the corner. It's just not there and nobody wants to phone the local town council in order to find out when it will be there. I asked our translators and they refused saying that people there would only laugh about it. There is no water, that's the way it is and no problem.

We are lucky they said we had water up to today and the block next to us hasn't had any water in a week. At such a moment you really start counting what things you need water for and you come to the conclusion that you need water a lot. I mean in this block nobody can go to the toilet at this moment for example. Or clean their dishes, or whatever. Water is really essential and locals are really looking at me as if I am crazy when I say that we have to find a solution, there is no water you just have to live with it. Probably somewhere a pump broke and there are no spare parts to repair it so quickly.

To avoid the same problems in the near future we bought 5 big waste containers and placed them in every bathroom in the house and as soon as there is water these containers have to be filled, since the 1000 L. tank is not enough for 20 people. But the water didn't come. But it will come you just can't give up you know.

A part of the group went to Durres today to see how the situation is there and to find back the people from Mullet who where so rapidly transported out after the Albanian army took over that camp last week. The people from Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) said they went to Himmalay 2, also run by NPA, but that closed up yesterday I heard from UNHCR, just as Himmalay 1 and 3, as well as the four camps in Spitale. Or they are in the process of being closed, but anyway there's no people there anymore. So they aimed for the huge Italian camps in Rrushbul, in the Italian army camp it had been said that people are brought there as the protection is better.

The rest went to Kashar as always, there not much has changed, only three families have left, but most will stay some time longer. But even here it is a big question mark, the big leaving can start here very soon as well. Like in the rotary club camps, both the centers have just been emptying themselves overnight. Only two families are left over and they will leave soon as well. Nevertheless Premiere Urgence will open a new refugee camp by the beginning of next week. For one or another reason they will start with 200 refugees they said and it will grow even. I am rather surprised since everywhere the main tendency is closing, but we will see.

The big leaving of NGO officials has started, the first wave went to Kosov@, the second wave is leaving now, for home, or for other crisis areas in the world. Anyway for the next 10 days all the airplanes out of the country are booked out. Some NGO's pay enourmous amounts in order to still be able to transport their officials out. In particular a lot of campmanagers are going home. I visited some of them today here in Tirana in their private rooms, doing the last bookkeeping, where did they spend that last 10.000 dollar and so on, wrapping up the salary list for the local staff and returning back to the beach at Durres. The mood is somewhere in between happy to return home and feeling kind of sorry that it hasn't became what they hoped it would be. It was over before they had even realised what was happening.

Also the UN agencies are sending their specialised staff away, the refugee crisis here is over and more and more developement aid specialists are taking over, the agencies more or less turn back to the programmes they had running before the refugee crisis begun. My good friends at UNICEF are leaving this weekend, first on holiday and then to another crisis area. Maybe I will see some back in Kosov@. Or as one was saying, maybe next week in Montenegro. Referring to the fact that there is still a refugee stream from Kosov@ into that still-Yugoslav republic.

Another totally new thing for the UN bodies is that they are now more or less the government of Kosov@. Since there is no legal body in place yet the UN has taken over. UNICEF for example is responsible for education. This is totally new for them. And they had to admit that it was not planned at all, it just came to them after they arrived in Kosov@. Normally there is a kind of legal local structure in place, somehow, but this time there isn't. One of the problems UNICEF is facing for example is that they wanted to put up a working group of Albanian-, Serbian- and Roma- Kosovars to plan the new schools starting in September. This working group collapsed, the Albanians didn't want to work together with Serbians and Romas, the last group is seen as collabarators of the Serbs. And such things are of course not making it much easier. But it is fully understandable that so shortly after the war the willingness for intensive cooperation is near to nothing.

Whether there are refugees in Albania or not, each time that you visit a school building or a hospital, or just go a bit outside the center of Tirana, you are suprised about the poverty of this country and the need of some kind of change in things. At the UNICEF child-friendly spaces meeting today, founded to build up child-friendly spaces in refugee camps, it was clear that they are now also looking for a concept how to build up similar spaces within Albania for the children from this country. And for sure that is a first step, somewhere along the line this situation here has to change, because in the long run this is a spiral case down. Over the last years even more children didn't go to school and the position of teachers became worse and worse, now they are in the lowest stratum of the society. Being a teacher is not considered doing a real job. Better you sit in the bar and earn some money with half-illegal things.

Later in the morning and the afternoon we have been repacking so-called family packages. These are humanitarian aid packages send in this case from the UK to help families who are in host-families. The organisation who was distributing those packages has stopped working and they asked us if we wanted to have their left-overs. Anyway we thought that it was good to repack all these packages, since some things are needed and some things are not needed in Kosov@ and it is stupid to transport things up there which are not needed or still there. In a way it was a funny operation, we were very surprised by what kind of food we found in those boxes, things from which you think that no Kosovar will ever know what it is and for sure will never eat it. Too British or in this case even too Scottish. Anyway after repacking we have now at least 30 big boxes with good canned food and a lot of pastas in order to take with us to Kosov@.

In the evening we had a general information exchange. What is happening at the way stations, how do we continue there, what is happening in the camps, in Kukes and what are the steps in the direction of Kosov@. Rand just came back from the way station in Rreshen, where he spend almost six days, in the meantime he went up and down to Shemri as well. Rreshen still doesn't get any people into their way station, it is just too far from the main road, a total waste of money. But the local CARE manager has at least decided, against his orders from above, to drive our volunteers and his local staff to the main road now and distribute water, toys, food and so on from there and that has been very succesfull the last days. The big rush is cooling down, so there are less and less people passing by.

For his trip up and down to Shemri, he was hitchhiking with other NGO cars. He reported that he saw three turned-over trucks in the mountains, which must have turned over the last week, since I hadn't seen them last week when I was there. One was a WFP food truck who turned-over half a kilometer away from the Shemri way station and which was loaded with special cookies for children. The driver disappeared, but the Balkan Sunflowers volunteers on the way station collected most of the boxes before they were looted. So they are also distributing these cookies in Shemri, and they can continue for some time, since they rescued tons of them.

Another volunteer who had been up in Shemri for ten days explained how the situation at the station is improving every day. The cooperation between all the NGOs is getting better and people are becoming real friends. This I heard also this afternoon from the UNICEF people, they were very impressed by the Balkan Sunflowers in Shemri, when they made their official press visit at the beginning of this week they could find almost only Balkan Sunflowers at that station. A couple of them running around in UNICEF t-shirts, which made it even better for them.

We just wanted to tell what we knew about how Gojan was doing and just at that moment Stuart and Flo came through the door, so they could immediately start reporting themselves.The waystation Gojan is also still up and running, but the amount of traffic is getting less. Because the official repatriation route is not via this route but via the road from Shkodra to Kukes. So eventually this station will be closed soon as well.

On all the ways station there are now Italian NATO soldiers protecting the way station and making very good pasta for the volunteers. At least that is what they are all saying. They are all as surprised as everybody else that it took so long before the first station besides Shemri started to work, basically only after the big tractor trek was over. And that they are closing so fast as well, but that is a surprise for all of us. The plan was to have them open till the end of August, starting the first of July. But as everybody knows the Kosovars decided differently.

The most remarkable news comes from people who have been travelling all the way up to Pristina and back and have seen how people just arrived with their tractors in their home villages and started working on their land the very next day. They are just back in time to do the harvesting of the grain they had sowed just before they had to flee. So if you are lucky and your house is not destroyed and your land is not mined, you can continue where you had left off and the whole three months inbetween is just a bad dream.

About Kosov@, we sent two people off to Peje, from whom we haven't heard anything back yet, but that was to be expected. The NATO did their best to destroy all the communication lines within Kosov@ and they did their job properly, now we have to deal with the lack of working telecommunications. On monday two teams are going, one with Rrazartha to Pristina and one with the Clowns without Borders to Gjakevo.

Later in the evening water came back, again a problem less....

wam :-)