Desperate plight – Staff editorial

The refugees pouring out of Kosovo have a desperate plight. Television and newspapers are full of images of tens of thousands of refugees huddled together on cold, rain-swept hillsides along the borders of Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. The exodus of refugees who hope to get across the border and away from the hell within Kosovo is nearing biblical proportions.

Refugees tell tales of Serb soldiers and paramilitary units that burn homes, chase out entire village populations and murder residents who take too long to leave. The cities of refugees springing up along the borders are becoming a humanitarian disaster.

When U.S. policy-makers were devising with their plans for action in the Balkans, they never foresaw the refugee crisis that would arise or at least never seriously considered it. Serb forces have taken advantage of the NATO bombing campaign to push out nearly half of Kosovo’s Albanian population either by direct force or by intimidation. What the Serbs knew they could never get at the bargaining table, they are attempting to achieve by force – an ethnically clean Kosovo.

Yet the individual refugees along the borders don’t care about the larger political issue, they are concerned about surviving and escaping. Several NATO countries, including the United States, are allowing Kosovar refugees to immigrate temporarily. It is the least they can do considering Albania already has taken in more than 260,000 refugees. Macedonia has accepted 120,000 and Montenegro has taken in 36,000.

The tens of thousands of refugees amassed along the borders need immediate aid. They will die without food, supplies and shelter. What the Serbs could not do to them, nature will.

NATO should have been better prepared to deal with a large number of refugees. Granted, no one expected the Serbs to launch a coordinated drive to push out as many Albanian Kosovars as possible, but instead of getting caught flat-footed, NATO should have been ready to house and feed the thousands of Kosovars that would be fleeing their land.

What the refugees need now is aid – immediately and in large amounts. Their lives hang in the balance. NATO’s bombing led to the Serbs pushing out Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. NATO is partially responsible for the refugee exodus and cannot abandon these people.

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