Refugees look for way out of camps
April 25, 1999
STENKOVEC, Macedonia (CNN) -- The first of about 800 ethnic Albanian refugees boarded planes for new host countries Sunday, but relief workers braced for another 30,000 to 50,000 more refugees to arrive.
The human exodus from Kosovo now numbers more than 600,000 people and accounts for 20 percent of the population in Albania, according to NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. Aid officials say 20 percent of the people in Montenegro are refugees as well.
The Stenkovec II camp in Macedonia, just three weeks old, is already packed with 16,000 ethnic Albanian refugees. Each tent holds up to a hundred people.
Word that officials are handing out registration cards resulted in a mad rush for a way out.
"I would go anywhere," said one mother standing in line. "We are stuck in the mud here. My kids are sick; I want a way out."
Sunday's airlift took about 150 refugees to Britain and the Netherlands early Sunday, while others were due to be flown to Spain and Turkey later in the day.
The flights are being organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has received promises from 28 nations to temporarily house 115,000 displaced Kosovars.
"The evacuation is completely voluntary, and many people change their mind at the last minute," a UNHCR official told Reuters.
There have been no airlifts from the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, where conditions at camps in Rodaje are miserable at best.
Rain has soaked through many of the crowded tents. The camp's 16,000 refugees trudge through mud to complete their daily chores, which include cutting wood and washing their clothes and utensils in an icy stream.
The Red Cross in Montenegro estimates that 20 percent of the population is now made up of refugees. The government says that it costs $10 million a month to support them, a burden it can ill-afford.
"Its getting more and more urgent, the situation for both security and for their health. That kind of environment requires immediate attention to relocate them." said Rob Breen, head of the UNHCR in Montenegro.
Correspondents Nic Robertson, Bill Hemmer, and Reuters contributed to this report.
NATO targets Yugoslav media, oil supplies
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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