Yesterday, as a UN Delegation entered Kosovo for the first time since the NATO bombing campaign began, Catholic Relief Services executive Director Ken Hackett stood in a small conference room in the CRS National Headquarters in Baltimore. He was speaking of his three-day tour in Albania. His stature, typically graceful and resolute, was slightly stooped and tremulous. Whether this was from his return late the evening before, or what he had seen was not a question that could be easily answered.
Under the CRS banner, he and two bishops had traveled to Albania to review their organization’s humanitarian relief efforts. Although the relief agency had been in Albania since 1991, Hackett conceded that they were ill-prepared for the overwhelming numbers of deportees that have been forced over the Kosovar borders, which is now estimated at just below a half million people. The CRS is now supporting at least 200,000 of those people with food, hygienics, and rudimentary medicines.
Hackett stressed that with “no immediate signs of peace,” the relief work would have to be reorganized within a month, or suffering would engulf the country. In the region, winter is harsh and arrives early, and Albania is a devastated country with a limited infrastructure: fuels for heating are almost nonexistent, and there is only sporadic electricity.
After arriving in the Albanian capital of Tirane four days ago, Hackett spoke with the Prime Minister and announced a half-million-dollar grant for the Albania school system.
Hackett then traveled south to Dunes. A port town on the Adriatic Ocean, Dunes was once a wealthy metropolis but is now a poor fishing village and is now housing over 100,00 deportees. Unlike Macedonia, where they lived in tent cities, the Kosovars are being housed in private homes there. Often, as many as 12 people will live in a small room.
Agency relief workers had been reporting growing tension between the Albanians and the Kosovars, now into their third week in the city. Having toured a few houses, Hackett observed that the guests and hosts may be of the same ethnicity, but they come from radically different cultures. Kosovars are largely educated and westernized, whereas their hosts often have had little communication with the outside world and have limited educations. He pointed out that relief efforts would now have to encompass the Albanians, as well.
In a survey of 10,000 deportees, the agency found that 94% still wanted to return to Kosovar. Most believe it is inevitable that they will return home. “They have great trust in NATO, almost a blind trust,” said Hackett.
Hackett reiterated a few reports, ones that will be added to the growing number of human outrages and atrocities filtering out of Kosovar. He spoke of how groups of Kosovar women were taken off trains headed for Macedonia, systematically raped, and then being returned to their families. Hackett stressed that he had not heard of systematic raping from the deportees in Albania, but he conceded that there was probably “more that we are aware of.” He spoke of how one survivor witnessed the men of his village being shot.
There was much else he could have talked about: of how it was their Serbian friends and neighbors who had murdered and stolen and raped, or how Serbian merchants refused to sell food to the starving Kosovars still in the country, of how this campaign of ethnic cleansing had been planned well in advance of the bombings, of how the Kosovars had been systematically stripped of all identification. But there is only so much one man can say. Not to mention the fact that his press secretary abrubtly ended the conference as soon he began to speak of the rape.