Stadium Camp Houses 4,000 Refugees, And Growing
Posted April 16, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
TIRANA, ALBANIA — The flood of refugees into Albania is causing a shortage of space, food and patience. Almost 10,000 refugees crossed the border Saturday - the biggest one day total so far. Albania is housing many of them in makeshift areas like the "Stadium Camp."
As the number of refugees swell, simple things like trying to hand out apples can almost turn into a riot. The Kosovars are a polite people, but hunger and frustration shoves manners out of the way for the 4,000 people at the camp.
When Serbs clear a Kosovo village, it usually scatters families like the wind. Several times a day relief workers announce names and where people are, as refugees desperately search for loved ones.
One elderly couple just arrived from Kosovo. The man said that the Serbs spared his life because he is old. The woman said the soldiers ordered all 46 villagers to remove their clothes.
"They parted us from the men, and right in front of our eyes, they told the naked men to 'stand up, put on your clothes,' and when they put on their clothes, all of them were shot to death, and there was created a river of blood," she said.
The woman also said that after the Serbs burned homes and shot people hiding in cellars, the only things left were "dead bodies, not yet buried."
Despite the bad memories, the couple still plans to go home when the fighting is over.
"Of course we will go back to our country," the woman said. "It is our birthplace, it has always been our birthplace."
Many Americans can relate to basketball, but few can relate to living on a basketball court. Some of the refugees have been at the camp for three weeks, and have no idea of what their future holds.
Young girls who should be playing with toys and young boys who should be playing ball, wonder if they will ever go home. One mother wondered if she will ever see her three sons again.
"Two of them are hidden in the mountains and I know nothing of their life," she said. "And one of them is fighting with the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army]. And this is the daughter of one of my sons, she hasn't seen her father in a very long time."
The mother says she is very angry with the Serbs because they forced her out of her homeland.
"We have no place, we belong nowhere," she said. "The Serbs have tortured us. They have killed our children, and they have strangled our babies."
Relief workers say some of the sick and elderly may not survive the conditions at the Stadium Camp. One refugee said he would rather die there, than at the hands of the Serbs.