War In the Balkans - Refugees: Banished go back to help

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE many people ready to help the battered, anguished refugees of Kosovo: UN officials, eager foreign aid workers, Christian missionaries, local home-owners, even (occasionally) journalists.

But none give as much as those refugees who themselves minister to the sick, the wounded and to others in distress.

Since the deportations began on 25 March, dozens of doctors, nurses and assorted helpers expelled at gunpoint from their homes in Kosovo have returned to work, manning the medical tents raised around Kukes by the big agencies, or the clinics set up in decrepit public buildings.

The Sun even tried to buy one of these quiet heroes - Dr Flori Bakalli, who sprang to fame by treating a 10-year-old boy who survived a massacre in Kosovo.

"They wanted me to keep it a secret, but I said I had already told the story to all the other journalists," Dr Bakalli said with a grin. Dr Bakalli was on duty in casualty at the state hospital in Djakovica, in western Kosovo, when the Nato air strikes began.

Within days, he was forced out of the city with his wife and baby. "It was systematic. They had a plan of what to burn and when to burn it," he says.

But 24 hours after reaching Albania, he donned a Medecins du Monde vest and went back to the border, where the French-based aid body set up an emergency clinic in a couple of large white tents less than 200 yards from the Serbian guns. "I realised I could not live just like a refugee. And then it was for my baby, because we left the town without any money, nothing. And one reason was the people in need," Dr Bakalli says of his decision to work in Kukes.

It is also a distraction from the pain of memory. "I have no time to think about depression, no time to think about what happened then. I don't have time to talk to people from Kosovo about what happened," he said. "Maybe later I will realise."

Kenan Idrizaj, another Kosovar volunteer, has no medical training but says it is important that at least one Kosovar meets the newest, sickest refugees.

"Yesterday came one woman from Djakovica," he said. "I told her, I am like you, my house is burnt. She has the same pain and I know where to touch her. I am not a doctor, but our pain is the same."