War reunites Kosovar child with family in America
May 9, 1999
Late Saturday, after a 12-hour flight from Macedonia to New York, 10-year-old Blrina finally arrived, crying and opening her arms for the first of many hugs from her parents.
The bittersweet reunion scene was repeated many times at John F. Kennedy International Airport as refugees, escaping reported atrocities in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, were reunited with family in the United States.
Blrina is one of up to 20,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees the United States has offered to shelter. Three planeloads of people displaced by the war have arrived since Wednesday, but this was the first group to arrive that had family living in America.
Some of the more than 200 people gathered to welcome the newcomers at the airport had never before met their relatives.
Two older sisters, one of whom Blrina had never met, pressed four balloons and a bouquet of red roses into her hands.
"I'm so happy," said one of the sisters, Dafina Raci, 13. "Oh, my God. She looks so beautiful. She looks like an angel," she said.
Blrina's family left Kosovo nine years ago. She was only an infant when her father, Adem Raci, left in 1990 to settle the rest of the family in America.
Blrina was left in the care of her grandmother. Phone calls and grainy photographs had been her only contact with her parents for almost a decade.
"When we left, my mother said, 'Don't worry, we're going to take care of her very well,'" Raci remembered tearfully.
Blrina's road to New York was a long one. She fled the Kosovar city of Pristina weeks ago with an older cousin and his family.
Adem Raci said the family was forced out of their home by Serb troops.
"The Serbian people came and said, 'You got 10 minutes to leave, or you die,'" Raci recounted.
The grandmother, Raci believes, is in a refugee camp in Albania. Blrina wound up in Macedonia, living with a family near the refugee camps, where she was able to get in touch with her parents.
"On the first phone call, she said, 'Daddy, we are alive, we are alive. Don't worry about us. We are OK,'" Adem Raci said.
On Thursday, the Racis were notified by the International Rescue Committee that their little girl would be among 100 refugees arriving at the airport.
Nick Rugova, 31, of Bedford, New York, also went to the airport holding up a sign bearing the name of his cousin -- Nezir Rugova -- who was separated from his wife and daughter when Serb troops herded them onto buses in Pristina.
"He has no idea where they are," Nick Rugova said.
The State Department said 2,000 refugees will soon begin arriving in the United States every week for the next 10 weeks. They've been chosen because they have relatives here, or they're considered the most vulnerable.
Not all will begin a new life in America like Blrina. Some say they want to return home when the war ends.
Reporter Deborah Feyerick contributed to this report.
Refugee flow into Macedonia slows; Albania may take 1 million
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