Stories and reports


Skopje, 17.08.2001

"So, you kept your promise!", says Aco Smokovski, Director of the "25th May" National Institute for Children with Special Needs, which has recently been turned into a home for internally displaced persons. 87 ethnic Macedonians, primarily from the Tetovo region, are now living here. MCIC's promise was to provide humanitarian aid for these people.

"We opened the doors of our Institute to these unfortunate people at the beginning of this month", says Smokovski. The Institute normally takes care of 60 children aged seven to eighteen, but during the summer period only 26 children were living there, as the remainder were on holiday, either with their own families or on a camp organised by "25th May".

"We are expecting a further nine people to arrive during the day", says Smokovski, stopping only for a moment to answer the phone that rings incessantly. "No problem", he answers to the voice on the end of the line. "We'll take her in". He puts down the receiver and explains that they have been asked to take in the mother of the police officer who had been murdered the previous day. "We try to meet everybody's needs", he says. " These are the times we live in".

MCIC and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been providing aid to the displaced people since they first arrived at "25th May". The Italian organisation CRIC has just announced that it will deliver food aid once a week. "You know", says Smokovski, "they've told me they'll bring bread and burek for the IDPs once a week. How do I tell the children who are residents of the Institute that it's not for them, but for the other children? I hope that we shall reach an understanding".

We went on to talk with some of the people being accommodated in this institution. We took care, as people do not always wish to speak of their troubles. Several women were tidying the rooms where they were staying. They invited us in. They were ready to discuss their situation but were bitter about everything that was going on in the country. Milka Serafimovska, from the village of Tearce, her husband and three children have been here since August 1st. "We ran away in fear. At first, we were in the village of Janchishte, for almost two weeks. The woman who took us in is a relative. They were really kind to us, but we could not have stayed longer. They can hardly make ends meet without us on their backs, and there is no help. That is why we decided to leave."

Milka ran away without anything. They didn't even have time to take the vital things. They barely managed to take her son's wheelchair. "My 13 year-old son is physically handicapped, and he cannot move without it", she says. Her daughter Jasmina is 14. "She will now start secondary school, only I have no idea where she is going to go", and her eyes fill with tears.

Milka went back to the village to see the house on one of the convoys organised by the Macedonian Government. "Broken windows, destroyed furniture, television set, VCR, everything that we ever worked for in life. We borrowed money, paid it back in instalments to have something for the children, so that they could be happy. And now everything has gone in just a single day. My brother-in-law told me he saw them loot the house. He saw them go into our house three times until they had stolen everything".

"We trusted our Albanian neighbours and we really thought that everything would be alright", says Mira. "They told us not to move, they would be there for us and nothing would happen". Mira worked in the medical centre in Tetovo, and her husband worked in Jegunovce. "We had settled, we could not complain. Now we thought we could enjoy life a bit, travel, and not run around making money."

Armed people from the so-called NLA found them in their garden and told them that they had five minutes to leave. "What possessions can you take in five minutes?", asks Mira. For mutual support, they gathered with the other villagers in front of the café, and agreed to flee together. They made their way through fields, in the pitch dark, all the way to the Tetovo-Skopje road. From there they came to the Parliament Building in Skopje, and then they were taken to accommodation in "25th May".

"It's good here, we cannot complain, but our life is where our homes are. Now we must start from scratch, as if we had never worked before. Will the State even look at us, will they ask us how are we coping, will we ever go back to our normal life again?" Mira's questions never end.
We say goodbye and leave the newly-refurbished building where these people are accommodated. What will happen to them in two weeks' time when the new school year starts, when the all the accommodation will be required for the children who are the usual residents here? Where will these people go next as they try to put the pieces of their lives together again?

By Gonce Jakovleska, MCIC

Marijana, Mira's daughter in her "new home" - room in collective center Butel, Skopje
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