Refugee needs become focus of Kosovo effort

BY SUSAN KIM | Washington | April 7, 1999


The number of displaced Kosovo refugees could soon reach one million - nearly two-thirds of the region's people. Relief agencies are trying to meet

emergency needs while growing increasingly concerned over deteriorating conditions of camps.

In what the relief community considers the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II, many people are anxious to help. Individuals and groups are

urged to send monetary donations, not material goods, so that relief agencies can purchase and ship items in bulk quantities. Action by Churches Together,

which is coordinating a worldwide network of relief efforts, has issued an appeal to its worldwide network of churches and church agencies to raise $4

million to meet immediate needs.

Church World Service is supporting the ACT appeal for funds, and is also collecting "Gift of the Heart" health kits from its member denominations

nationwide

"Based on what's being requested by our relief partners, right now the only material donation we are collecting is the health kits," said Donna Derr, acting

director of the Church World Service Emergency Response Program. "But people should keep themselves updated as to what's needed. This is not going to

be a short-term response, and needs always change."

Relief agencies are also turning their attention to advocacy and human rights issues in reaction to 40,000 refugees driven from the Kosovo-Macedonia

border Tuesday night. Macedonian riot police took the refugees away in buses, and scattered reports say that some are in Albania, while others were taken

to Greece and Turkey.

"Right now many relief agencies are trying to determine exactly where refugees have been moved," said Derr. "There is also an advocacy role that relief

agencies can take with regard to the human rights issues here."

Churches should speak out on the current violations of refugees' human rights, said Jacob Kramer, a relief team member from the Christian Reformed

World Relief Committee (CRWRC). "It's frustrating for relief organizations when we can't find people, when we're blocked from certain areas, and nearly

reduced to distributing aid by throwing it out the back of a truck," he said.

CRWRC and other relief agencies, including Catholic Relief Services, are working to accommodate the influx of refugees. "The best we can do is coordinate

with NATO troops to set up new camps and improve conditions for people," said Tom Price, a spokesperson for Catholic Relief Agencies.

Those who want to volunteer within the U.S. may find that their local relief agency needs people to answer phones, sort goods, or response to growing piles

of correspondence.

Most relief agencies are now seeking only skilled individual volunteers - such as doctors - but plan to recruit other volunteers when refugees return to their

homeland and begin to rebuild. Relief leaders are already discussing long-term plans to help rehabilitate the land and reclaim a sense of community.

According to the United National High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 131,000 refugees have already crossed the border into Macedonia, with

about 262,000 in Albania, 58,000 in Montenegro, 7,900 in Bosnia, and 6,000 in Turkey. Government and relief officials report thousands more have lined up

and are waiting to leave Kosovo. At each location, the International Red Cross is working around the clock to meet basic living needs.

The first refugees to fly out of Macedonia arrived Tuesday in Turkey and Norway. A number of countries will begin taking in refugees, at least on

temporary basis. The U.S. will house 20,000 in Cuba, while Germany will take in 40,000, Turkey 20,000, Norway 6,000, Greece 5,000, and Canada 5,000.

Austria and Ireland also plan to accommodate refugees.

The biggest challenge is providing refugees with a temporary but safe place to live, said Nils Carstensen, spokesperson for ACT. Nearly every major relief

organization is responding to the Kosovo crisis, including Church World Service, United Methodist Community on Relief, Lutheran World Relief, Adventist

Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Catholic Relief Services, American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, Presbyterian

Church of the USA, Baptist World Aid, Episcopal Church, Salvation Army, and many others.

During the past week, ACT has coordinated an airlift from Denmark, with seven planes carrying 20 tons each of food, plastic sheathing for temporary

shelters, clothing, and blankets, as well as two small trucks and two Land Rovers to assist in distributing the aid. Three more flights are scheduled by Friday.

"Once we get the materials over there, transporting them becomes a major stumbling block," said Carstensen. "Roads are much poorer in Albania, and

many refugees have fled to remote areas that are difficult to reach."

Formulating relief plans is difficult because no one knows exactly how many people will flee Kosovo or when they can return, said Kramer from CRWRC.

Last week CRWRC sent 15 trucks from Holland full of clothing, mattresses, and food. CRWRC is channeling the goods through Dorcas Aid International,

which has an office in southeast Albania and staff that can oversee four centers with 10,000 refugees each.

"Trying to keep an accurate overview of the situation is difficult, and we're still uncertain about the quantity of food available in throughout the region," said

Kramer. Today CRWRC, working through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, will decide on the type food to send, which could include wheat flour, beans or

lentils, and milk, Kramer said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has shipped by sea 200,000 pounds of clothing, blankets, and hygiene and medical kits, which will arrive

in Macedonia in about four weeks. The church will also soon send a food shipment.

Many relief organizations are forming partnerships and consortiums in order to better meet refugees' needs. ADRA joined with Heart to Heart

International to coordinate a shipment of nearly 17 pallets of medicine and antibiotics to Albania. ADRA spokesperson Jim Lanning said that collaborating

with other organizations leads to more rapid and comprehensive response.

"Another advantage to partnering is that you don't have several agencies chasing the same commodity," Lanning said. "I've asked for bids for tents, only to

learn that four other relief agencies have called this week looking for tents. If partnerships, or at least loose alliances, are developed, it helps prevent overlap

in some areas and no involvement in others."

In refugee camps, unmet needs are surfacing, especially among children and the elderly. Mental health needs are also prevalent as refugees arrive frightened

and sometimes separated from their families. Many times their homes have been burned or their loved ones killed.

Providing trauma counseling and helping refugees locate family members are two types of response still under discussion by relief agencies, said Ammanuel

Moore, spokesperson for Catholic Relief Agencies. "We'd like to set up better registration at refugee sites so that we can help people find their families, and

also get a better count of people so we can provide the correct amounts of food, water, and other basic necessities," he said.


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