Page 4, 18th June 1999

18th June 1999
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Page 4, 18th June 1999 — Picking up the pieces once I nternational eyes turn away
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Picking up the pieces once I nternational eyes turn away

Citra Sidhu follows Cafod's on-going care for Kosovan refugees

AS THE DUST slowly settles with the war in Kosovo officially over, the full extent of the devastation is only just making itself known. Matthew Carter, the emergency co-ordinator for Cafod, has just returned from visiting the Malesia e Madhe district in the north of Albania and the Luslmja district in the south. "It makes you wonder whether the action of Nato resolved the problem or whether it is just beginning," he says.

Soon after the crisis began, refugees were moved to camps throughout Albania. Cafod was given two camps to manage, Kolonje, a rural camp and Divijaka, a more urban one, both about 30 minutes from Lushnja. Between 7080,000 refugees have been settled in this region, and of this number Cafod assists a total of 3,000. Although the numbers seem quite small, this is a huge undertaking.

Up until two weeks ago refugees were coming in over the Albania-Montenegro border. Cafod-Albania, along with the Catholic Church, was there to meet them and deal with their immediate needs. Meeting the refugees at the border was important. Many people, particularly the elderly, were severely traumatised. They had been displaced at least twice. So it was also an opportunity for the refugees to speak to someone.

Cafod-Albania was set up in 1993 soon after the collapse of Communism. Aid agencies were still a new concept. But Cafod-Albania is used to working with ex-political prisoners and has proved well prepared for the job.

Cafod-Albania also works alongside host families who take in groups of refugees where there are no camps. This is the second part of its work here. There can be up to 12 people with a host family at one time. Generally the host family is either linked to the refugees or simply has the resources to offer more help. Cafod also brought in a small team of external experts, among them a nutritionist, and at various times a water engineer was sent out to deal with sanitation in the camps, along with the local government.

But the problems of camp life have now gone beyond food and sanitation. The strain is evident from the elderly who have seen their own and their families' lives destroyed and who now have little hope for the future to the children who have been moved from an environment of education and entertainment to the stress and tensions of the camp.

Social problems are also endemic in the camps. Gangs are common and boredom and frustration exacerbate confrontations. "In one of the camps I visited there was definitely a marked increase in psychological problems from the last time I was there," says Matthew. "There was violence in the camp. The men have started to show more visible signs of what they have been through. But there is always the danger of abuse due to vulnerability in these situations — sexual as well as violent. This is one reason why Cafod and the Church have pushed to keep the camps small."

A related problem is the difficulty in getting refugees' rights recognised in Albania. Albania does not have sufficient resources to police the camps effectively and this problem is compounded by the prevalent attitude that the refugees do not come under the ordinary protection laws enjoyed by Albania% citizens anyway. It is hoped that the peacekeeping troops will take this on.

Life also seems to have been made difficult by the misplaced enthusiasm of some individuals to help.

"We've had someone drive out with a whole truck-load of baked beans," says Matthew, exasperated. "Kosovans do not eat baked beans. They cannot understand how we can put sugar on our beans! It reminds me of how well the truckloads of pork luncheon meat from the US government went down in Somalia. They were not impressed at all."

The chances of most of the refugees returning home soon seem bleak. "Tony Blair made the comment that the refugees would be home in two weeks. I left Albania with the feeling that this just will not be the case," says Matthew. "Many of the refugees I spoke to told me that they would not be going home for now. After the experiences these people have been through, the brutality and the trauma, they need assurances that Milosevic's soldiers and police will leave and that peacekeeping soldiers will go in.

"Furthermore, although the UN wants to have certain roads cleared within the next month, I don't think it will be physically able to clear all the mining and the booby traps. It will be a long time before people will have the confidence to go back," says Matthew.

Cafod's long-term plans for assisting the Kosovan-Albanian refugees are first to continue assisting the refugees it was supporting during the war, and secondly, to set up a "self-build" programme. This will provide materials and expertise to help people design their own communities and to develop water and sanitation systems. This is a strategy to bring about regional peace. "We are looking at educa tion issues, working with schools in order to break down the cycle of violence," says Matthew.

However, for now, Cafod intends to stand back from the initial rush of aid agencies back into Kosovo once the borders are cleared.

The refugees are going to be in the camps for at least the next two to three months. Even if the majority of refugees filter back, the elderly and weaker individuals will stay behind for now and they need us here.

Cafod feels that this crisis has emerged at the end of a catastrophic year globally. "At the beginning of 1998, we thought that we had got natural disasters oder control," says Matthew. "This turnet out not to be the case. In Sudan, we'vehad famine and civil vva. In South America, therewas the hurricane. There has been persecution in 'Irma and Afghanistan. Weals° forget about Rwandla.The tragedy there still uinflds. For Cafod, it has kraoked us sideways. We are exhausted and we nee( the support of the Cartnlic community. They live' been incredibly geneous in their response to the Kosovo crisL In fact, it's been the best outpourin of generosity so far. But, I must ay, although we are tired, in comparisa to what the refugees have gone th_rogh, it's minimal."




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