Albania, Macedonia seek support for refugees
April 2, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- Macedonia and Albania on Friday called for an immediate increase in international aid for 220,000 Kosovo refugees who have poured into the two countries and the Yugoslav province of Montenegro in the past 10 days.
All three governments have warned that the mass exodus is a severe economic burden and could cause social unrest. The three regions are already among the poorest in Europe and are not equipped to handle such refugee masses.
"Our neighboring countries have lost their sense of responsibility to accept even one refugee -- let alone Europe," said Macedonia's Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Trajanov.
He said his country had 42,000 refugees in its territory, and that only 300 tents had been sent from abroad. Thousands of refugees swarmed to the Macedonian village of Blace, with less than adequate aid, and little food.
When a Macedonian ambulance drove in with bread and milk on Friday, a fight broke out, with a dozen or more people coming to blows over a single piece of bread.
"Today is Easter. Brussels does not work," Trajanov said, accusing the European Union of inaction over the holiday weekend.
The U.N. refugee agency -- the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees -- said Friday that it and other agencies had distributed blankets, bread, water and juice to the masses at the Macedonian border overnight.
CNN Correspondent Mike Boettcher said there were men and boys among the refugees and that Macedonian officials were attempting to document who the refugees were since they had been stripped of their passports and identification.
Transport to get people out of the border region was inadequate, Boettcher reported, and there was not enough emergency food and medicine for the sea of refugees.
The United States announced Friday it would send more than 500,000 pre-packaged meals and other relief supplies to Albania. Some 50,000 "Humanitarian Daily Rations" are to be loaded aboard transport planes in Delaware and flown to Tirana as early as Saturday, Pentagon officials said.
Tents, cots, water purification devices and another half-million meals are to be en route by April 10, officials said.
The daily rations, similar to the military's "Meals Ready to Eat" (MREs), are tailored for people who observe a Muslim diet.
The UNHCR agrees that the situation is extremely serious.
"The situation is absolutely dramatic, it's reaching nightmare proportions," said UNHCR spokeswoman Judith Kumin, on Friday.
International aid agencies and international donors will meet on Tuesday to coordinate larger-scale coordinated aid efforts.
U.S. President Bill Clinton on Friday again pledged the full support of his government to the countries in the region, including emergency aid for refugees.
Thousands of refugees have been transported to the Macedonian border by train or have been put aboard buses and driven close to the Albanian border and then made to walk, aid agencies say.
More than 120,000 refugees have so far crossed into Albania, many of them through the border region town of Kukes.
"In Kukes district, the situation has become absolutely critical," Information Minister Musa Ulqini said on Albanian television.
"There should be immediate foreign aid in food supplies, medicines and clothing," he said, adding that thousands of refugees, mostly children, women and old people, had spent the night in the open.
Ulqini said that Prime Minister Pandeli Majko was in constant contact with Western countries urging that the relief operation be stepped up.
The streets of Kukes were jammed with cars of refugees, which had been stripped of their license plates before their owners were expelled from Kosovo.
Just across the border, blue smoke from a fire could be seen. Refugees said that this fire was the Serb authorities burning passports and identity documents that had been confiscated from ethnic Albanian refugees.
At Albania's Morina border crossing point, nuns were handing loaves of bread to the refugees. A grim column of refugees stretched back into Kosovo as far as the eye could see.
At a smaller and more isolated border post, in Qafe E Prushit, aid officials watching the unabating exodus from Kosovo predicted a humanitarian catastrophe.
The post is so isolated that truck convoys cannot bring food over the mountain paths or easily ferry out the more than 3,000 people in the new refugee wave.
"If we don't do something quickly, people are going to start to die," said a UNHCR field officer, walking among about 300 women and children huddled in a small meadow Friday.
One refugee told CNN he was forced to leave his two sons behind, and a woman said she saw her sons shot and killed by Yugoslav troops.
The UNHCR said two women and two children died on arrival at another crossing point into Albania. The organization said the deaths were likely caused by exhaustion and exposure.
Some refugees told CNN correspondents they had been walking for days, with no possessions except what they could carry with them or put on tractor-pulled carts.
Producer Chris Plante contributed to this report.
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