By Patrick Markey
With the sudden end to the bombing campaign in Kosovo, Irish aid workers are gearing up for a possible move into the battered Balkan region to assist in the repatriation of ethnic Albanians.
Officials from the Dublin-based relief agency Concern Worldwide could enter into Kosovo as early as next week as NATO troops work to establish order and secure a buffer between the retreating Serbian forces and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.
Concern will likely establish three camps positioned along the main routes to the Kosovar capital Pristina, the site of much of the heaviest bombing, and an area where many Albanians became trapped during the war.
Two Concern workers based in Albania plan to cross the border this week on an assessment mission, according to Rob Williams, the international development manager for Concern’s New York office. That should determine how safe the region is for relief work, Williams said. Concern will then set up transit centers and the distribution of foods as refugees start returning home.
Aid workers could start setting up those centers as early as next week, depending on the security and how the refugees begin returning, Williams said.
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Already established in camps near the Albanian border town Kukes, one immediate issue for Concern workers is the onset of winter and how those who remain outside Kosovo will survive the region’s harsh climate, Dominick MacSorley, Concern’s regional director, said.
While some refugees could perhaps return to their homes, given the region’s volatility and the destruction in Kosovo, many may stay in the often overcrowded residences of host families near the Albanian border, MacSorley said. Workers there will try to reinforce the camps and the infrastructure of the buildings where refugees are based.
Concern has been operating near the Albanian border since the NATO bombing campaign began 11 weeks ago. The agency has received more than $4 million in donations over the last eight weeks for its Kosovo relief efforts.
The support oversees the welfare of approximately 25,000 refugees in camps and those staying with host families in the communes of Golaj, Fajza and Gjanaj, Hasi District and in Bajrum Currie in Tropoje District.
It also funds a program in three way stations at Shumri in Kukes prefecture, Puke in the Puke district and Mjede in Shkoder prefecture on the road between Kukes and Shkoder.
(Concern is seeking volunteer civil engineers and logisticians with previous relief and refugee aid experience to join their team deployed in Kosovo. For details, call Rob Williams at Concern’s New York office at ( 557-8000.)