Macedonia says refugee problem overwhelming
April 29, 1999
SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- Macedonia's interior minister said Thursday his country should not be asked to host more refugees from the strife-torn Serbian province of Kosovo.
Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov said U.N. aid workers' demands for new refugee camps were "totally irresponsible." More refugees should be quickly airlifted out of Macedonia to other host countries, not housed inside its border, Trajanov said.
With Macedonia's refugee camps now housing tens of thousands of people, the camps are not just full -- they are bulging at the seams. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has begun to send refugees to a new camp at Cegrane, in western Macedonia, even though the camp is not complete.
In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski called for host countries to speed up their evacuations of refugees from Macedonia. He did not single out any particular country for criticism.
Wednesday's departure of nearly 1,600 refugees was far short of the relief agency's target of 2,000 per day, he said.
"This is not immigration. This is an emergency situation," Janowski said. "We do not expect the governments to keep these people there for years."
When refugees do leave, their numbers are more than replenished by new ones.
Finding the whereabouts of relatives is a top priority. Each day, lists of family names are posted. Finding lost children or their parents is a common problem.
Troops from NATO member Germany have worked to build new camps at Tetovo and Pujani. German Lt. Gen. Ruttginer Drew said the real humanitarian disaster remains inside Kosovo, where NATO accuses Yugoslav troops of waging war against the province's ethnic Albanian population.
"You really can't see what it going on there," Drew said. "It is a disaster ... simply a disaster."
Relief workers are increasingly worried that refugees are crossing minefields to escape from Yugoslavia. Doctors in Skopje treated at least six land mine victims, including a 2-year-old boy, hospital officials said Thursday.
In Albania, meanwhile, about than 2,000 people arrived at the main border crossing of Morini on Thursday. Many came from the town of Prizren.
They brought new tales of Serb police or paramilitary fighters looting and burning their homes, then forcing them out.
Medical staff at a hospital in Prizren -- a doctor, four nurses and a technician -- said Serb police rounded them up, took them to the police station for two hours, then drove them to the border and effectively deported them.
Among the more recent refugees, human rights investigators believe they may be able to document cases of systematic rape of female refugees for the first time.
"After taking the old men away, they took the women and children and separated them into three groups and put them in a basement," said Joanne Mariner, of Human Rights Watch
Investigators have had trouble collecting evidence of rape because few women have been willing to come forward with their own stories.
"Many of them will say that it happened to someone else, that 'At the last minute, I was saved.' But everything about their body language and their eyes suggests that it happened to them," said UNICEF spokeswoman Penelope Lewis.
U.N. workers now say at least 25 women have described to them how they were assaulted by Serb paramilitary troops and police.
At least one victim said the Serbs said they were also demanding money for Vojislav Seselj, a deputy prime minister in the Yugoslav government who has been associated with paramilitary groups.
Asked about that, Seselj said Thursday, "I hope that no one now accuses me of rape. Once you take a look at those who left their shacks, you can see that only a blind person could rape things like that."
A U.S. State Department spokesman, James Rubin, called that comment an example of the "contempt" Yugoslav leaders have shown for the Kosovars.
Correspondents Jane Arraf, Tom Mintier Reuters contributed to this report.
NATO hits Montenegro, says Milosevic faces dissent
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