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IT groups help Kosovo refugees stay in touch

May 7, 1999
Web posted at: 3:47 p.m. EDT (1947 GMT)

by Mary Lisbeth D'Amico


(IDG) -- A group of information technology vendors has teamed up with the U.S. government to help relieve the isolation of refugees from Kosovo.

The Refugee Internet Assistance Initiative, as the public-private effort is being called, is donating $500,000 in computer hardware, software, and related equipment and services to help deliver Kosovo refugees news and information in their native language.

At interactive information centers being set up, the refugees will also be able to search the Internet for and communicate with their relatives, according to a statement from the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which is sponsoring the initiative. The partnership will also provide international relief organizations with the technology they need for their humanitarian efforts in the Balkans, the USIA said.

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The effort, which is to begin shortly, was announced Thursday in Ingelstein, Germany, to coincide with President Bill Clinton's visit there with Kosovo refugees. Interactive information centers will be set up at refugee sites in Poland, France, Germany, the Balkans, and Fort Dix, N.J., the USIA said.

The move is designed to help millions of Kosovo Albanians housed in refugee camps across Europe and the United States "'virtually' rebuild and reunite their fractured communities," USIA Associate Director and Chief Information Officer Jonathan Spalter said in the statement.

After being driven from their homes in Serbia by Yugoslavian government troops, the refugees face more than just shortages of food and other essentials. Many, especially those cut off from family members as they fled, face feelings of isolation and displacement. The refugees will be able to use e-mail and other information technology tools and download Albanian language bulletins providing regular news and information updates aimed specifically at refugee communities.

The participants in the initiative are SGI, Cisco Systems, Xerox, Gateway., Hewlett-Packard, International Data Group, the National Technology Alliance, 3M, Apple, the David Sarnoff Corp., Autometric, the Markle Foundation, Riso, and the Waitt Family Foundation.

USIA officials could not be reached for direct comment.

In its own statement Thursday, SGI said it is donating 320 visual workstations (SGI's name for Windows NT workstations that allow computing with professional graphics and media capabilities), Origin 200 servers, and MediaBase software.

Mary Lisbeth D'Amico (marybeth_d' is a Munich correspondent for the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affilate.

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