Daniela Kostadinova in Skopje
The Macedonian Red Cross second-hand clothes warehouse has been operating for three years and has recently moved to new quarters. It is a place where people of different nationalities and backgrounds come together for the same reasons: to receive materiel help, but also to talk and receive comfort.
"Crises break people apart, crises bring them together. The beneficiaries coming to the warehouse often say to me: " I don't only come here to get clothes; I also come to talk with others as well", explains Svetlana Ognanovich, responsible for the second-hand clothes warehouse of the Macedonian Red Cross, in Skopje. "This is not just a place where people can obtain some clothing, this is a true psycho-social support group", she adds. Most of the donations come from foreign humanitarian organisations, but there are also regular donations by Macedonian citizens.
"Refugees, social cases and recently displaced people are our beneficiaries. They are very depressed when they come here. Many have lost their properties and belongings. Meeting other people who are in the same tragic situation can be a moral support", adds Svetlana.
Fourteen-year-old Vasil sorts through the clothes with great interest. While choosing suitable clothing for himself and the family, he explains: "For over a month, I have been alone in a collective centre here in Skopje. My parents, my brother and my sister have stayed behind in our village, Lesok, near Tetovo. They can't leave because the road to Skopje is not safe. I miss them so much. I told my family that if there is a humanitarian convoy going to the village, they have to get on it and join me. I told them to hide in the trunk if needed - I just want them to come to me", says Vasil trying to hide his tears.
After more than six months conflict in the country, the number of internally displaced people have increased rapidly. More than 80 000 internally displaced people have been registered by the Macedonian Red Cross. Nearly 30 000 come from the Tetovo region. More than 71 000 are accommodated with host families, and the others are housed in 21 collective centres.
"With my three children I came to stay with relatives here in Skopje in February. Now, we are 16 people in one house. It's very difficult. We receive help from the Red Cross and we are grateful. The items help us get by. But still, home is best. Only God knows, where we'll end up", says Violeta Simonovska, from Tetovo, as she wonders about the uncertain future. She also came to the warehouse to find some clothes for the family.
In close co-operation with the ICRC and the International Federation, the Macedonian Red Cross is distributing humanitarian assistance to the three main groups of beneficiaries: refugees from Kosovo, social cases and internally displaced people. Food, hygiene articles, baby kits, used clothing and free medical care are among the main Red Cross services.
Running around the carton boxes in the warehouse, seven-year-old Mirsa curiously explores the content. Her mother Malibet though has the last word when it comes to deciding what should be taken.
"I had never imagined that I would come here. However, here we are. We escaped from our village two months ago, with only a few belongings. Now we are accommodated in a collective centre, depending on humanitarian assistance. Going back is risky, because of the fighting in the area", explains Malibet who comes from Radusha village, near Skopje. Her husband Kenan nods his head and adds: "The last thing I will lose is hope. I do hope that things will get better, not just for us, but in the whole country. Things just have to become better."
Zdravko Cvetkovski Collective Centre
All 10.000 inhabitants of Arachinovo village (some 10 km from the capital Skopje) fled their homes at the beginning of June, to escape the outbreak of violence in their village. Some left the country, some stayed with relatives and friends, and others are staying in collective centres.
What once used to be a high-school dormitory, "Zdravko Cvetkovski ", is now transformed into an improvised collective centre facility. Located in the central area of Skopje city, this institution opened its doors to some 360 internally displaced people, all from Arachinovo village. Under the same roof, they all share the same suspense of an uncertain future.
"My oldest daughter called me at work, in a panic. She was alone at home with her two younger sisters. 'Mommy, what shall we do', she asked, 'everyone is running away?' I was very worried. I will never forget the scary voice she had", says Snezana Arsovska, one of the displaced people in the centre. "So, she took her sisters by the hand, packed a few clothes and left with the crowds."
Nena (12), Nika (9), and Marijana (5) are the three daughters of the Arsovski family. "They used to call us temporarily displaced people. To me it looks like we are starting to be quite permanent. We have been here almost three months and for the moment we cannot go back ," says the children's father, Marijan. While 5-year-old Marijana swings her hula-hoop, enjoying her childish games, her sister Nena, has gloomy eyes. She is old enough to understand the seriousness of the situation.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare rapidly identified institutions suitable for large-scale accommodation of people. Most of them are student homes, hotels and summer resorts. Marija Nestoroska, the head of the collective centre, gives more details about the everyday life there. "With the management team we try to adjust to the new situation as much possible. Together with our beneficiaries, we prepare the daily menu, lessons are organised for the adults and there are daily programmes for the children. The rooms and hygiene standards are not meant to accommodate a great number of families, but we try to cope somehow. We are a big family now," Marija adds.