With continuing fighting between the National Liberation Army and the Macedonian government troops, the flow of refugees from Macedonia (FYROM) into Kosovo is intensifying. Over the past 24 hours alone, some 5,100 people crossed into Kosovo at Blace-Han Elezit, on the road between Skopje and Pristina. Yesterday, 200 refugees crossed into Kosovo at Tetovo. Others are coming in at several border points. Since June 1st, more than 17,700 refugees have arrived from Macedonia through this location, bringing the total number of refugees from FYROM to 38,440.
More than 40 volunteers and staff of the Red Cross of Kosova are welcoming the refugees, registering them and providing them with basic relief food and other articles, as well as with psychological support. Protection staff from the ICRC are also on hand to talk to the refugees.
A Federation/Red Cross psychosocial support team of four people is on hand to comfort the refugees. They have talked to more than 300 people over the last two days. "Everyone is scared and confused about their immediate future. The volunteers do a great job in reassuring them. We watch for people who are particularly distraught or completely withdrawn. We also pay special attention to those who seem to have arrived alone, the elderly and children.", explains Kris Hurlburt, the Federation's Psycho-social programme coordinator in Kosovo.
People are crossing continually, even during the night. Red Cross volunteers are on hand to provide first aid to those who need it . A small clinic has been set up jointly by the Red Cross of Kosova and local medical authorities. Dehydration was a particular concern on Monday, when temperatures soared to nearly 40 degrees. About 15 people were immediately transported to the nearest health facility because of heat-related problems.
People arrive at the border either in private cars or busses, then walk one kilometre into Kosovo. They carry what they can, personal belongings, clothes and documents. Some 80 % of refugees are women, children and elderly. Most of the men are staying back to watch their houses. Red Cross of Kosova and Mother Teresa Society volunteers cross into the no-man's-land area between the borders with carts and rickety wheel chairs, to transport those too old or feeble to walk. They also help them with their bags and transport them to the UNHCR reception site, housed under a few tents.
There, the refugees are given some juice or water as well as food and other relief items. They are registered and assigned a host family. The Red Cross of Kosova has recruited host families in Kosovo by launching an appeal. Many of the families in Kosovo now taking in Macedonian refugees, were themselves welcomed by Macedonian families when they were driven out of Kosovo when violence erupted in the province. The Red Cross is also ensuring the host families have sufficient support, either materially or psychologically.
Dozens of taxi drivers have also volunteered their services. They drive the refugees to the home of the host family, once they have been registered and assigned a destination. Fuel for this transportation is being funded by the Emergency Council of Han Elezit.
When people have to wait for a relative to come and pick them up, the Federation/Red Cross team is providing the children with crayons and games to unstress them. Some refugees are also being given access to telephones to call family in Macedonia or elsewhere to reassure them. All refugees are going into host families.
When there is a lull in the flow, the Federation team provides training in psychosocial support to Red Cross volunteers and staff. They are also providing volunteers - who have been working in shifts around the clock for several days - with psychological support
The Red Cross operation began in February 2001 with the first influx of refugees and has continued since then. It is being conducted in close coordination with the ICRC - who, as lead agency in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is coordinating all Red Cross/Red Crescent assistance in the region - as well as with the UNHCR, IOM, the Mother Teresa Society and others.
Psycho-social support in Kosovo is provided by 25 Federation/Red Cross counsellors, based in 6 centres across the province.