War in Europe: ... as refugees sleep in mud

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The Independent Online
THERE IS a miniature valley in the tent occupied by the Leqiri family which turns into a small stream when it rains. You can see the marks where, during the thunderstorms at night, tiny rivulets join it from the higher part of the floor on which the family sleeps.

Home for the Leqiris used to be a comfortable house in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica. Fadil Leqiri, 48, was trying to make a success of his central heating business. His wife, Emin, 38, was busy raising their four children, Faton, Fatmir, Mimoza and Fatmire, four bright youngsters who attended good schools.

Yesterday, just inside the northern Albanian border, they stood in what they owned. He had on a pair of corduroy trousers and a jumper. She wore a thin dress and cardigan. Their children were a little better off: their parents had bought them a change of clothes which had been washed outdoors and hung on a makeshift line in a corner of the tent.

Their story is familiar. They were roused from their sleep 10 days ago and told by the Serb military to get out immediately. Mr Leqiri has a broken wrist from being pushed down the stairs when he failed to move quickly enough. But he considers himself lucky.

"We saw lots of bodies on the way here," he said. "We brought nothing with us except some clothes for the children but the Serbs took them from us. They also took money. All I have in the world now is DM200".

Home for the time being is a camp run by the UNHCR and Medecins sans Frontieres. Yesterday, the floor inside the Leqiris' tent was wet and muddy; there was no ground sheet.

"It's worse at night," said Mrs Leqiri. "We don't have enough blankets, so we have to huddle together to keep warm."

The sun shone yesterday morning after several days of dreary, heavy rain which has turned the camp into a quagmire. The agencies want the refugees to move south, so they discourage anything that gives the camp a sense of permanence.

Toilets are simply cubicles suspended over trenches. There are no washing facilities, and even cooking on fires is frowned on. "We are eating only cold food at the moment, bread and tinned fish," said Mrs Leqiri. "In Kosovo, we would have meat and beans, pasta and vegetables. I would love to cook for my children. They are all right at the moment, but I worry about them. Especially with the cold."

Days are spent sitting and talking, remembering the past, worrying about the future. In good weather, the setting is spectacular. The children can play in orchards above the camp while the adults sit and marvel at the snow-capped beauty of Mount Gjallica, rising above them.

Mr Leqiri knows the authorities want his family to move on, but he intends to stay to be close to the border. "I want to get home as fast as I can," he says. "We have a life to rebuild."