Macedonian Red Cross helps displaced people

Published: 29 May 2001 0:00 CET

Daniela Kostadinova in Kumanovo

The Macedonian Red Cross has registered almost 6,000 people displaced by the latest clashes between government forces and ethnic Albanian fighters. With those still homeless from the clashes in March and April, the total of registered displaced people countrywide is 8,170. Most of the displaced have been taken in by host families.

Jelena Djordjevich and her family left their village in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia fast. Urged by the authorities to evacuate as clashes intensified between government forces and ethnic Albanian fighters in the north-east of the country, there was no time to pack.

"The minute we heard the news we left," said Jelena, as she collected Macedonian Red Cross relief goods in the north-eastern city of Kumanovo. "We went as we were and we were unable to bring much with us. Our cattle are still in the village. My husband goes back and forth to feed them but I don't know how long we can go on like this."

For the best part of a decade Macedonia provided shelter for troubled neighbours, first the Bosnians and then the Kosovars. Jelena, one of around 3,800 displaced people to have registered for Red Cross assistance in Kumanovo, smiles at the irony. "We used to be the ones who gave help. Now we are receiving it," she says.

Most of the displaced have been taken in by host families, and for more than two weeks now Jelena, her husband and two children have been living with relatives in town. She shrugs. "Two families, eight people, suddenly brought together under one roof is difficult but this Red Cross food and the hygienic things will see us through a little longer."

The Kumanovo branch of the Macedonian Red Cross mobilised as soon as the authorities called for the evacuation of civilians from most of the villages in the region.

"We took people in and started a registration process straight away," says branch secretary Arsen Arsenoski. "Once on the books they can be helped at our distribution points."

Food, hygienic and baby parcels, blankets and mattresses are being delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is leading the Red Cross response, and the International Federation.

"People are tense, worried," says Arsenoski. "An uncertain tomorrow affects everybody and we try to help psychologically. A word of comfort in these tough times means a lot, and our teams try to lessen the anxiety as well as hand out relief goods. People coming here also meet others in the same boat. They talk the problems over, discover they aren't alone, and that, believe me, is of great importance."

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