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In today's Macedonia, the former hosts are now refugees

"Do good unto others and you will receive good things in return". So say the old people of Radusa, a village which lies to the north of Skopje and only two kilometres from the border with Kosovo. Most of the village's 2,000 inhabitants are ethnic Albanians. Twice in six years, this community played host to several thousand refugees who came to them in need of shelter and protection, first from Bosnia in 1994, and then from Kosovo in 1999. But now it is the turn of the former hosts to ask for humanitarian support, as they find themselves displaced from their homes. They have become some of the latest victims of the current Macedonian crisis.

During the Kosovo emergency two years ago, a refugee camp for 4,500 people was established at Radusa which was managed by ACT/Macedonian Center for International Cooperation, with support from Norwegian Church Aid. At the same time, MCIC distributed food parcels to local families who were accommodating Kosovo Albanians in their homes. After the return of the refugees to Kosovo, MCIC undertook a major water purification project in the village which aimed to protect and preserve the main water supply for Skopje which is drawn from this area. It was important to protect the environment so that there would be no long-term effects from the presence of so many refugees. This was done with the financial support of Diakonisches Werk from Germany

But the wheel has turned, and the former host families from Radusa have now become refugees, forced from their homes by the latest inter-ethnic violence in Macedonia. Some of them are being accommodated in collective centres in Skopje. One of these is located in the children's holiday camp of Cicino Selo, where MCIC is providing daily supplies of food and non-food items for the displaced and uprooted people.

Once they were the hosts, now they are refugees

"I never thought that we would become refugees," says Ibrahim, one of the recent arrivals from Radusa who also appears to be one of the oldest residents. "Everything happened so quickly. We feared about the children. We didn't even have the time to take the necessary clothes with us. My family came to Skopje several days ago, but I had to take care of the cattle."
Now they are in Skopje, people live together in reasonable harmony. They share the same hardships. "We had the refugees from Bosnia in our homes a few years ago. We helped them as much as we could. Two years ago, we had the Kosovars in our village. It seems as if this bitter destiny followed us. We never had any problems with the Bosnian refugees, and we also lived well with the Roma people", declared Ibrahim.

Many of the young people had already left the village to find work elsewhere. Those who stayed worked on the land or lived on social welfare.

"We left the cattle in the village. There were about 500 cows, but there is no-one to take care of them now," says Murat whilst drawing on a cigarette and looking concerned. "We sit here all day long, but our thoughts are back in our village." Murat now lives on social welfare. "Here is the document. Look, I live on 1,500 denars. What can I possibly buy with this money?"

We are alright now

"We are alright now," says Fatima, a 50 year-old Roma woman. "After six days of wandering the streets of Skopje, without a place to stay, without food, this is like a category-A hotel."
She described how back in the village the gunfire became heavier and heavier. This made life unbearable for the people, who simply decided to take the train and flee. "We slept at the railway station in Skopje", continues Fatima. She indicates an bent, old man, whose pain could be seen on his face. "My husband is a very sick man." He just waves his hand as if to say something like "it doesn't matter". There are many sick people here, but unfortunately there are no free medicines for them and they don't have money to buy them. Regardless of the crisis, they are poor, almost none of them has any work and their only income is in the form of social welfare of about 1,500 denars a month (approximately $20).

"We are not important," says a younger Roma woman holding her young son in her hands, "but my child had a temperature and I had to get him some medicine. I borrowed the money from a neighbour and now she wants her money back and I don't have it. Where am I supposed to get the money? The good thing is that the boy feels better now," she says, whilst gazing fondly at her little one-year-old, who is about to start walking.

Having left Radusa with only the bags they could carry, they now need clean clothes, new shoes, and other basic items. They live in the hope that the good people will help them through this difficult period in their lives.

Enver's suitcase

Enver Mujadinovic is just over 70 years old. He is not in the best of health, but he does not complain. "Thanks to the good people, I am surviving", he says. Enver came to Radusa in 1994 as a refugee from Bosnia. At that time, the government of Nord-Rhein-Westfalen was funding a shelter scheme for 500 refugees from Bosnia in Radusa. Most of these have since returned to Bosnia, but those who remained have become caught up in the Macedonian crisis. "Uncle" Enver has therefore been displaced twice in the last seven years. His room has one bed on which he sleeps, and his belongings are laid out on a second bed which is without a mattress.

To begin his story, Enver opens his suitcase, as if his whole life was inside it. He shows us the photos that tell his story. He escaped the Bosnian war to Serbia, but his wish was to come to Macedonia where he felt the conditions were right for him to be cured of his illness. He explained that he was not looking for the normal treatment, but for a spiritual cure which he felt could only be provided by the love of Macedonia's two million people as shown towards him, as a refugee. "And now, this is happening to my people, to my country. This country does not deserve this, nor the people living here".

After his arrival in Macedonia, Enver settled in Gevegelija with his friend Tomco Gjorgov. He pulls out the piece of paper which was his registration document when he entered Macedonia. He even managed to find a job in a warehouse at Skopje market, which helped him to survive the crisis more easily. He stayed there seven years. Afterwards, he was in Katlanovo, and from there he was sent to the refugee settlement in Radusa.

"I don't feel like a refugee. When I came here for the first time in 1992 with only the clothes I stood up in, I didn't feel like a refugee. At the border they asked my host how much time he would guarantee for me to stay in his home and he said "until he dies". That's why I feel like a member of the family, that's why I consider this country as my own country and that's why I consider these people my own people".

Recently, when his health was poor, Enver was reminded of the saying "fortune in adversity". He thought of all the people who had supported him during his treatment and who helped him to get back on his feet again, who reaffirmed his belief in the kindness of people.

The Kosovo refugee crisis found him in the Radusa camp. "Poor people," says Enver, "they also arrived with only the clothes they stood up in." Whatever humanitarian help he received, Enver gave to the people who took care of the Kosovo refugees. The refugee himself took care of refugees. Times and circumstances have changed, but the destiny of all refugees remains the same. And now, the whole process has started all over again.

Leaving "Uncle" Enver in the small room in the collective centre which is his new home, we wish him good health. "Be good children", he says. "Be honest and human, be the way I know people are in Macedonia".

Tahir's story

Tahir Nuhi is a Radusa man. His father owns part of the land where the refugee camp was set up two years ago. When in June 1999, the camp was closed down and MCIC decided to follow the refugees back to Kosovo, Tahir followed and was appointed to work on MCIC's new programme based in Djakovica. There, he was responsible for the secondary distribution of building materials for the reconstruction of ruined homes. He spent two years there.

Then came the crisis in Macedonia. In March 2001, in the nearby village of Gracani, a battle broke out between the so-called NLA and the Macedonian security forces. This worried Tahir as the village was just two kilometres from the Kosovo border, and his fear was that the fighting might spread to his village. His concern was even greater due to the fact that his wife was expecting their second child, due in July.

Whilst the public was pre-occupied in June with the events in Aracinovo, news reports started to come in about the appearance of extemist groups on the north side of the Zeden Mountain, above Radusa. The extremists then attacked two police patrols. The villagers decided to leave to avoid becoming caught in the crossfire. First, the women and children left for the neighbouring villages, as well as for Kosovo. Tahir's family moved to the Kosovo village of General Jankovic, close to the border with Macedonia. His father stayed in the house. Tahir continued to go to work from Monday to Friday while spending the weekends with his family.

However, the fighting spread. There were rumours that the NLA extremists who were evacuated from Aracinovo in the last week of June had joined the groups in Radusa. The extremists were able to take over the village and from there they mounted an attack the police station and the nearby army watchtower. It wasn't safe any more: the last villagers left Radusa, including Tahir's father. The Macedonian security forces used both artillery and helicopter gunships and many of the houses that were occupied by the extremists were destroyed.

Tahir left for the neighbouring Kosovo village of Gorance. "I could see the fighting from there. The only thing I wanted to see was whether my house was damaged. The Army bombed the part of the village where my house is situated. It was very probably hit".

"Life is strange", continues Tahir, "to receive and take care of so many refugees, to help people rebuild their homes ruined by war, and now to be a refugee yourself and to see your own home ruined. I hope that our help and kindness will be returned with help and kindness".

In July, Tahir decided to stay with his family in Kosovo and to help his wife during her last days of pregnancy. "The decision to resign from MCIC was the hardest and the most difficult moment for me, harder than leaving my own home". However, Tahir will continue helping the work of MCIC in Kosovo and he hopes to take part in the rehabilitation of Radusa.

We hope that one day all these displaced people will return in peace to to their homes and to their daily work, that the children will be able to continue their care-free play as they did before. When will these people reach their journey's end?

Prepared by Gonce Jakovleska, Gramoz Shabani, Saso Klekovski, Antony Mahony
MCIC is affiliated to ACT International and World Council of Churches.

Colective center Cicino selo 1
Colective center Cicino selo 2
Radusa refugee canp from the Kosovo crisis
Start of Radusa sanitation project1
Start of Radusa sanitation project 2
Tahir Huhi in Gjakovica
[Hold cursor over photos for detailed description]

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