Kosovo Refugees Flee to Montenegro: Small Republic in Yugoslavia Tries to Aid Them

By Ladika, Susan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 9, 1998 | Go to article overview

Kosovo Refugees Flee to Montenegro: Small Republic in Yugoslavia Tries to Aid Them


Ladika, Susan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


PODGORICA, Yugoslavia - Long overshadowed by vivid television footage of Kosovo refugees struggling over the border into Albania, an even bigger refugee crisis is brewing in the tiny Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.

Between the end of June and the end of July, the number of refugees in Montenegro rose to 25,000 as they streamed across the intimidating mountainous border, seeking refuge from the killing in Kosovo.

More than 300 persons have died since March in clashes between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanians who want to make the southernmost province of Serbia an independent nation.

The eruption of fighting two weeks ago near the town of Orahovac and along the border with Albania have forced thousands of more people to go on the move.

"Montenegro seems to be the exit way for people in Kosovo," said Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. With reports of land mines and skirmishes along the border, "the Albanian way is too dangerous. It really has dried up completely."

Instead, refugees by the thousands are entering Montenegro. By the end of June, 10,000 had sought shelter there. Two weeks later, they numbered 18,000 and counting, according to UNHCR. On top of that, Montenegro is home to 30,000 refugees who fled the wars in Bosnia and Croatia and have yet to return home.

"Nobody knows exactly when the boat will be full," said Francesco Natta, head of UNHCR's office in Montenegro.

Ironically, the Kosovo refugees flee one part of Yugoslavia and find open arms in another part of the nation.

When the former Yugoslavia crumbled in the early 1990s, Montenegro was the only one of five republics that remained with Serbia. The two make up what is left of Yugoslavia.

NO NEED FOR PAPERS

Both republics were slapped with economic sanctions for fomenting war in Bosnia. Despite a recent liberalization of Montenegrin politics, the economy has not recovered.

Mr. Natta said refugees from Kosovo are in part drawn to Montenegro because they need no special papers to come and go. If refugees head to Albania, they are "totally cut off. If they come to Montenegro, they can return at any time to Pec, Decani or other areas because they're in the same country. It's quite natural that somebody doesn't want to cut links with his home."

With only 650,000 residents, tending to the refugees is taking its toll. Outside aid for refugees has been limited at best, and most support comes from the Montenegrins.

"They've been very good so far, accepting all these people without a moan," Mr. Janowski said.

About 60 percent of the refugees are ethnic Albanian and head to Rozaje and Plav, towns with large Albanian populations. The remainder are a mix of ethnic Montenegrins, Muslims, Serbs and gypsies.

"The citizens of Montenegro are our main resource for receiving and accommodating the refugees," said Djordjije Scepanovic, head of Montenegro's Commissariat for Refugees. "Most stay with friends or on the good will of people."

One of those radiating good will is Ali Daci, who aids refugees streaming into Rozaje, merely 10 miles from the Kosovo border. He is president of the local branch of the Democratic League in Montenegro, an ethnic Albanian political party.

Mr. Daci has taken in 29 women and children in his own home. "I have to be a role model for the community," he said.

Most new arrivals are brought to a closed paper factory on the outskirts of town. There is no running water, and people sleep on thin foam mats on the floor.

The Idrizajs have been at the factory a month. The three brothers and a sister, aged 15 to 23, fled Decani when Serbian shelling destroyed their home in May. They have had no word of their parents since.

Taking special care of 18-year-old Lirim, who is mentally handicapped, the four moved from village to village, fleeing the advancing Serbs, before crossing into Montenegro. …

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