Tirana, Albania: The Peoples' Story
Posted April 14, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
TIRANA, ALBANIA — NATO says there are now enough supplies to feed and house the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Kosovo. But conditions are bleak, and people are packed together in muddy makeshift camps.
Many refugees have stayed three weeks at the "Swimming Pool Camp" in the Albanian capital of Tirana.
Albania radio blares the latest news from Kosovo as people search for hope in what many say is a hopeless environment.
People huddle around "the list," which are documents circulated by relief workers that refugees sign as they try to be reunited with lost love ones.
"I feel very sad, very powerless," an elderly woman said.
What was once the municipal pool for Tirana is now home to thousands, and each has an incredible story of how they ended up there.
"We were the lucky ones because we managed to go to the mountain, and the other people who were sheltered in the cellars were caught by the Serbs," one father said. "And in a village of 200 people, many families were killed and the children were beheaded."
Stories of atrocities are everywhere, and so are atrocious living conditions. While one tent houses 15 people, the back of a truck provides living quarters for nine others.
Still the spirit of the displaced Kosovars seems to win over despair. The children treat the swimming pool refugee camp like it is just another place to play.
Refugees with construction experience are building a kitchen to cook their own food, but most simply want to go home.
"All day we say, 'Amen, if only we go to Kosovo, and if only the Lord helps the Americans to help us,'" said the elderly woman.
The refugees say hope keeps them alive. The hope that some day they will return to Kosovo.
The mass of refugees continue to stream out of Kosovo. They say Serb troops are methodically emptying villages, separating families, and sending people away with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Up to 50,000 more people are on the move toward Macedonia, which has already taken in 125,000 refugees.
There are no names for the refugees WRAL talked to because most of them fear some sort of payback from the Serb para-military.