Fleeing Kosovars overwhelm remote corner of Montenegro

25,000 refugees occupy area of 24,000

no aid from agencies, NATO expected WAR IN YUGOSLAVIA

April 13, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ROZAJE, Yugoslavia -- No management school, job or manual could have prepared Vehbija Bibic to deal with the human tide that washed up at his crystal factory.

Normally, he manages 120 workers. Now, he's overseeing 2,300 ethnic Albanian refugees who fled Kosovo.

Bibic organizes cleaning crews, hands out blankets and tries to keep a semblance of order on a 100-yard-long factory floor that is jammed with screaming infants, pregnant women and hundreds of other unwashed, unshaven and unprepared people.

"I've never seen anything like this," Bibic said yesterday as he strolled the floor and offered encouragement to his guests, many of whom lived for weeks in the mountains before making their way to this town.

In a remote, mountainous corner of Montenegro, close to the border with the Serbian province of Kosovo, tired and desperate refugees continue to flood a town that appears on the verge of a complete breakdown.

Normally, some 24,000 people live in Rozaje and the surrounding area. Aid workers claim there are now 25,000 refugees here, with thousands more apparently on the way.

They fled the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo only to end up here, still in Yugoslavia, facing disease and a lack of food, not to mention the menacing Serbs of Montenegro.

Unlike refugee crises that gripped Albania and Macedonia, there is little in the way of help or aid in this area. NATO won't come here and most humanitarian agencies haven't yet gotten into this region.

The refugees don't feel entirely safe, either. They may be out of Kosovo, but they're still in Yugoslavia, subject to the whims of the Yugoslav army.

"We need help," Bibic said. "We are getting very little aid. Basically, all we've got is bread and water."

Even as the first major supplies of medicine finally reached the area yesterday, workers said there was an alarming shortage of food, security and hope.

"It's quite a disastrous situation," said Jacques de Milliano, the former international president of Doctors Without Borders.

His voice rising, De Milliano painted a grim picture for the refugees.

"There is huge solidarity in this town, but the town is full," he said. "We have a very catastrophic situation concerning hygiene and food. People are living in factories, in trucks in the fields."

De Milliano said that if the situation doesn't improve quickly, there could be an outbreak of disease.

"This is a bomb that can explode at any moment," he said.

He also was alarmed over the lack of security in the area.

Refugees have reported that Yugoslav army personnel have driven by the camps, waved a three-fingered Serbian salute and shouted that they are "going to kill the Turks."

Local authorities have provided lightly-armed police protection.

"If we don't deal properly with the humanitarian needs and the protection, then tension will rise," de Milliano said. "People are hungry, they're getting sick, it's cold and they don't know where to go."

After so many days of war, it is almost astonishing to see refugees still straggling in. Yet still they come, pouring into a town already jammed with people and cars.

Zymrije Muzlijaj spent three weeks in the mountains before breaking out in a three-day trek to safety.

The 29-year-old mother of three carried one of her 7-month-old twins and her mother-in-law carried the other, while her father-in-law cradled her 3-year-old son on a journey down treacherous trails and across knee-deep fields of snow.

"I don't know how we made it," she said.

For now, her home is a blanket beneath a tree by the factory.

Usnija Ajzeraj, her husband and their four children arrived yesterday, and were counted among the lucky ones.

They got a place to sleep in the back of a truck. "We have nothing," she said. "No food. Nothing. We will take anything."

When space is found, Ajzeraj and her family will probably move into the factory. There, they will join others who have tried to make homes in front of glass-making machines.

A stroll along the floor reveals the tiny ways that people try to maintain their dignity, even as a foul odor hangs in the air. A woman pours coffee into a brass grinder. A man sweeps garbage from a gray blanket. A grandmother strokes the hair of a sleeping granddaughter.

And everywhere, wash hangs from lines.

There are only eight toilets, a few taps, and 10 showers that pour out cold water.

Stoves have been set up outside, although many are living on a daily meal of bread and powdered milk.

"I hope we can make crystal again," Bibic said. "We have no intention to keep these people here for centuries."

Pub Date: 4/13/99

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