War In The Balkans: Albania in crisis as tidal wave of 100,000 floods in

Humanitarian Aid
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE EUROPEAN Union is putting together a package of up to pounds 7m for the Kosovo refugee crisis as Emma Bonino, commissioner for humanitarian aid, prepares to visit the scene of the disaster.

With the tide of refugees growing by the hour, she said yesterday that the priority is to provide shelter, sanitation and food for 60,000 people who have entered Albania. But EU cash may also be used to fly some of the people from the north of Albania, where roads and infrastructure are poor, to the south of the country.

The calamity which has befallen the region is causing mounting concern in European capitals, particularly in Rome and Athens, which fear they will suffer a new influx as a result.

They are likely to push next month for a Europe-wide programme of settlement for some of the displaced to relieve the pressure on the "front-line" countries.

In the meantime, Ms Bonino, who leaves for Albania tomorrow, said the region was confronting "the new face of humanitarian tragedy".

Latest figures suggest that anything between 60,000 and 100,000 people have flooded over the border into Albania.

"In Albania there are up to 80,000-100,000 refugees," Ms Bonino said. "It's almost impossible to count them." That dwarfs the numbers arriving in other countries, an estimated 5,000 reaching Bosnia and the same number arriving in Montenegro.

Jamie Shea, spokesman for Nato, said that those driving to the Kosovo- Albanian border were being forced by Serb security police to pay about pounds 350 to leave, as well having to give up their passports and papers.

"It's almost as if their identities are being stripped", he said, adding that the move seemed designed to make any return to Kosovo more difficult.

Last year the EU contributed around pounds 42m for humanitarian aid in the region, about pounds 15m from the European Commission and the remainder from the member-states themselves.

The maximum that can be released for an emergency project is pounds 7m, although it is unclear how much of this would be spent immediately and how much retained for the medium term. However, a commission official added: "We cannot just sit back and do nothing. We have to use the first part of the money very quickly."

The cash will be directed to the aid agencies which are active in Albania, including the United National High Commissioner for Refugees, Oxfam and the Red Cross.

Aid experts in Brussels expect the crisis to worsen, with a significant proportion of the estimated 200,000 displaced people in Kosovo seeking refuge.

In London, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, announced an inter-departmental committee to study the problem and liaise with the countries directly concerned.

Among those who lost their relatives during the journey from Kosovo to Albania was Daud Bojku, who left Kukes and went back to the border yesterday in search of a blue Opel carrying his brother and nine children.

Mr Bojku, 40, said that he had left the town of Pec 12 hours earlier when the Serbs shelled his neighbourhood.

Kosovars arriving at the border are obliged to pay $60 (pounds 38) for a lift to Kukes: Yugoslav and Albanian currencies are not accepted. Those without money have to make the journey on foot.

The Albanian Prime Minister, Pandeli Majko, appealed to the population yesterday to offer refugees a place in their homes in order to "pass together these difficult days".

But most Albanians, especially in the north of the country, can barely feed their own families, let alone groups of strangers.

The situation in Kukes is said to be chaotic, with frightened and hungry women and children milling about in the streets, uncertain where they should go.

When a truckload of supplies arrives in the city the refugees swarm around it in search of something to eat.

Kathy Marks and

Stephen Castle