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Tirana Diary 14 May 1999

Tirana 14 Mai 1999

Some serious thought and appeals today. In the week that we are here now we have been talking with a lot of different local NGO's, especially with Woman groups. Most of this group already have started up small scale psycho-social activities with refugees here in Tirana. But in each talk it became clear that they have absolutely no idea what working with refugees is. OK you can bring some food, medicines and toys and talk a bit about how it is and how it was. But those stories mostly stay on the surface. This groups however wants to go deeper, more or less doing trauma solving work, also with raped women. And this is hard and specialised work, since if you don't put up the proper support, supervisor and de-briefing infra-structure up for the volunters (and paid staff) who are doing this work, they soon get burned-out. We learned that in Croatia in the hard way. Since there are not many people around the world who speak Albanian and this type of work basically only can be done by people who speak the local language (this work you can't do via translators), training of those people and building up the support structure for them is an absolute neccessety.
Albania is small and Tirana also, the active people are easy to be found. So it is not hard for us to link up people from abroad who can do such trainings with local activists. By now we know already most of them. On the UNESCO meeting yesterday it was also stressed that a lot of energy should go in the training of local people. And fast before the energy and willingness dries out and those who are doing it get so stressed and traumatised that we have to organised destressing programmes for them.
Another serious problem is that every organisation, local or international wants to run their own refugee camp. Als those who are absolute not capeable for it. Like groups who normally run things like a youth center or take care about elderly people. The result is that the land is full with small refugee camps without proper managment and sometimes even that is missing, people are just there, some food is brought (mostly bread and marmelade or so) and that is it. I admire the willingness to help, but some times I nearly got the hope that some help would be better not to been given.
Ones more I like to make absolutely clear that besides the real good and proffesional ones there are a lot of organisations here at the ground with haven't got the slidest glue of what they are doing. They run a refugee camp, transport food to one, do an animation on a site, bring their journalists to film and write about the good things they are doing, in order to raise more money and to become "heroes". This sounds critical and it is ment that way. Never before in my life I have seen so many NGO on one spot. This country has three major spots (for those who come here and don't have an "own" camp) were help is giving to the "Dynamo side" in Tirana, the big camp in Durres and Kukes. For the rest it seems that for most groups impossible to find other sites, and there are hunderds of them, everywhere you go.
In the dynamo camp the refugees often don't know if they go for a theater show, play football, listen to a popfestival, do a televion interview, go knitting, collect tons of candies or what ever. The camp management really complains about all this help organisations which just drop in, do their thing and ask nobody if that is needed and helpfull. They also gets tons of food which they don't need, a few days ago they had to throw away about 5 tons of oranges, since the refugees in the camp were absolute not able to eat them, they have far too much food there. Other camps just around the bloc, not so vise-able since they are in old school or some houses under construction don't get anything.
And the summer hasn't started yet, most people in Europe haven't got holidays yet, the as we said in Croatia, the war-turism saison still have to come. It will be overcrowded with helpers in this summer, beside the balkansunflowers lot's of organiastions with own camps will prepare activities with volunteers in their camp during the summer. That's one of reasons that we like to get our network so well build up that afterwards, when all those people are gone are able to continue those activities and take them over the winter, nothing is so bad as starting something and closing it down after a few weeks and leave the people alone.
As said the "war-turism" saison hasn't started yet, hunderds, thousands will come. Already in one week we picked up at least 10 international volunteers here in Tirana shopping around at the big organisations to be able to offer their help. So UNHCR was happy that we popped up and said that we are willing to create collecting places in Tirana and Durres were such people can go to, and see if they can be helpfull and were agencies can asked for help. We haven't got that mechanism in place yet, but I am sure we have it in place before the big flood is coming.
People who wants to come to this country in order to help should know that it is in a way a far more dangerous country to wonder around than Croatia and even in some areas as in Bosnia. There is no war going on, but the de-structure of society in this country is heavy. The total collapse from 1997 has left over a total choatic country, were money and voilence are the languages which makes the rules, and not the laws made by the government. Everybody who knows me a bit, knows that I am not the type of guy who is scaring of people. But understand this story, during the daytime this country is safe, you are able to travel, but after nightfall be sure to be back in a safe place. And above all don't test it of this story is real or not, believe it. You wouldn't find signs on the road saying "look out bandites", like you found in Bosnia and Croatia signs saying "Look out mines" or "Look out snippers", we don't know where they are, but they are there. The big organisations already lost a relative big number of cars and they are happy that up to now no internationals has been killed (as far as known).
I got a safety advise from the NATO desk today stating what I wrote here, also stating the the most common targets were International vehicles especially four wheel drive cars. That's why most agencies has put their expensive 4 wheel drives in guarded compounds and bought or hired one of the old mercedesses who are everywhere (Albania is the country with the most Mercedess cars seen to the population in the world), most have still a "D", an "I", an "CH" and "NL" sticker on the back next to the Albanian registration plate, making clear were the originally came from. It is a public secret that almost all the cars has been stolen abroad and brought into the country by the contrabands. The same organisations which is taken care for the weapons for the UCK, and all the other parts of the grey or dark economy.
Weapons by the way, besides that all police and army is armed, especially around govermental buildings you don't see many on the streets here in Tirana, that is different in the country side. The every third person seems to carry a pistol somewhere loosy in one of their pockets. Even at the frontlines in Croatia and Bosnia I never seen civilians wearing guns so openly and without holters or belt or anything. The UCK soldeers when the come in town are unarmed, also their special black uniformed units. The look the same as the fighters in Bosnia, I am always wondering why you don't see this people on the street when there is no war going on. Or it are the uniforms with gives them that special something.
After this writing I did a lot of stupid paper work which is part of the job. After awhile I was really fed up with it and went to IRC in the hope to meet BJ there and went out to have something to eat. During this lunch BJ told me that he came 6 years ago to Pakrac to help us as volunteer (he stayed almost 3 years). He told me that by the time he was coming to there, the world was black and white, good and bad guys. The longer he stayed in Pakrac he learned all tones of grey and even other colours between black and white. He came to help the poor people of Croatia and ended up helping also Serbian people since they had problems with the Croatian authorities. He told me that he did a lot of thinking in the last years, the world became a bit more complecated than before, since there were no good and bad people anymore.
After that I went to the German enbassy to see what kind of briefin g they make for the German NGO's, it was in one way interesting, but most of all long and boring. One guy complained a lot that he got a parking ticket since he parked in front of the wrong embassy and he didn't got a ticket, but had to pay 500 leka any way. He said that the police here has only a training of one day, and getting too less paid and are their for currupt. He heard stories that refugees have to pay to get on the list of official registrated refugees, which give them the right to get a place in one of the bigger new established refugee centers.
The talked about the fact that the EC is not showing clear enough how much activity they are getting of the ground. Each project financed by one of the EC countries should have a special EC flag or sticker on it. They, the ec, should make more PR otherwise the local people don't noticed that they together pay more on humanitarian aid as the americans.
They talked on all the small frustrations which are included in working in this area. Yes it is for sure easier to get things organised in Germany, but I am wondering what would happen there if suddenly 10 Million refugees flood the country. I am not so sure if they would be able to handle it. And this is Albania, the poorest country in Europe.....

All the best from Tirana,,