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1999 NCC News Archives

Church World Service Staffer Gives First-Hand Report of Refugee Crisis in Bosnia
CWS Expands Response Goal to $1.8 Million, Continues to Send Blankets to Refugees

Related Web Pages:
Church World Service Hotline
To Make a Contribution for Kosovo Aid
Church World Service Emergency Response - Europe
Interaction Index to Humanitarian Agency Response
NCC Calls for All-Sides Kosovo Cease-Fire Eastern Orthodox Weekend April 9-12
Earlier News Release on CWS Response

How to Help

Send contributions to Church World Service, Attn. Kosovo Crisis, 28606 Phillips Street, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone: (800) 297-1516, ext. 222.  Thirty-five Protestant and Orthodox communions work together through Church World Service – a ministry of the National Council of Churches - to meet human need in more than 80 countries including the United States.

Update: CWS Response

April 12, 1999, NEW YORK --- A first-hand report from a Church World Service (CWS) volunteer from Akron, Ohio working in Bosnia verifies the most recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report which relates a refugee crisis there. CWS is responding with $1.8 million for blankets, bedding and other supplies to help the thousands of refugees in the region fleeing war in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

According to the UNHCR report, there are 27,000 refugees from FRY in Bosnia, including 14,000 Kosovans, 11,000 Moslems from Sanjak and 2,000 refugees from other places. Earlier this week, CWS Bosnia Director Vitali Vorona said more and more refugees are expected in Bosnia, and that blankets were "the first priority." CWS has just released $265,000 to provide 15,000 blankets, 10,000 bed linens, 2,000 mattresses, and 5,000 each of pillows and cases for Kosovar refugees in Bosnia.

Amy Gopp, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) volunteer for the CWS Bosnia office, notes the irony that Kosovar and other refugees are "searching for safety in a land that has not known much safety." (See her first-hand account of a family forced to flee southern Serbia, which follows).

"Bosnia is already exhausted from its own war and filled with displaced people and refugees of its own, so will need aid and support in order to deal with this influx of refugees," said the Rev. Paul Wilson, the NCC's Europe Director. "Our CWS staff of five will be purchasing and supplying blankets, bedding and other supplies for a refugee camp in Bosnia to be run by UNHCR and other international NGO's."

CWS has expanded its goal in the Kosovo Crisis Response to $1.8 million, $1.3 million to support Action by Churches Together (ACT) efforts and $500,000 to support CWS assistance in the region. CWS already sent $100,000 for blankets and bedding through International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and $800,000 for tents, blankets and mattresses to be purchased and distributed in Albania by Diaconia Agape, the social service and development office of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania. Funds have also been sent to the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy for Kosovar refugees there.

Not in Heaven Nor on Earth:
Refugees from the Kosovo Crises
Find Safety in Bosnia

By Amy Gopp*

"We left out of fear," Jasminka and Enisa told us. Two bold women. Five beautiful children. An elderly, disabled aunt. On the 27th of March they packed a few bags and left their beloved Novi Pazar, a city in Sanjak, the predominately Muslim region of southern Serbia (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). They were on one of the many buses pouring into Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Now they are crammed into a modest two-room apartment with a retired uncle in Sarajevo.

"More and more people are leaving every single day, because we are deathly afraid. We have heard too many stories from Bosnia - it was time to get out." Schools, factories, and businesses are no longer functioning in Sanjak. Jasminka and Enisa, colleagues and close friends, were let go from work along with most of their other colleagues. Their husbands also lost their jobs but cannot leave the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia because they are of draft age. Very few men have been let past the Serbian border. Enisa said it is just a matter of time before her husband's number is called.

Jasminka and Enisa are still able to talk to their husbands over the telephone but are aware that that, too, is only a matter of time. Two year-old Zenaida, the littlest of the children with big brown eyes, refused to speak to her daddy on the telephone because "he didn't come with us on vacation." The children believe they have come to Sarajevo to visit their Uncle Izet and can't understand why their fathers have not joined them.

"The kids realize that something is happening but don't understand what." As they walk through the unfamiliar streets and markets of Sarajevo they ask for chocolate and ice cream as their mothers try to find words to comfort them. But words aren't pieces of chocolate, and the children can't understand why they are being denied the "normal" things of life. Even before they left Novi Pazar these things were becoming harder and harder to purchase because of the massive inflation.

The refugees have registered with the local Bosnian police but have received no information about receiving humanitarian aid. "Our biggest concern now is food," Jasminka stated worriedly. "How will we continue to feed our children? There are nine mouths to feed in this apartment now, and Uncle Izet only receives a 150 DM salary per month." At the present time there are 14,000 other refugees in Sarajevo from the Sanjak region alone, not including Kosovar Albanian refugees and others coming from FRY. In a country whose resources are already exhausted due to its own recent war, the question now is how to handle this new influx of refugees.

"It is difficult to believe that Slobodan Milosevic was given a peace award after the Dayton Accords. Look what kind of situation he has led his people into now!" In tears, Jasminka shares her disbelief over what is happening in her country. "It seems that Bosnia is happening all over again - the same type of silent cleansing is slowly but surely happening in Sanjak as well." Enisa adds: "We are not in heaven nor on earth and we have no idea where we are going. Every day is the same now: just waiting."

Most Muslims from Sanjak believe that their region will be what they call "icing on the cake" after Kosovo. Now they search for safety in a land that has not known much safety. Ironically, Bosnia has become a safe haven for many who now share a similar destiny. Jasminka and Enisa fled their country in hopes of guaranteeing safety for their children but fearing for the safety of their husbands. If their husbands are sent to Kosovo, who knows how long or if they will ever be reunited with exiled families.

In the meantime, the bombs continue to fall on FRY, the war continues to be fought in Kosovo, and refugees continue to flood the streets of Bosnia.


* Amy Gopp is a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) volunteer from Akron, Ohio working in the Church World Service (CWS) Bosnia Office.

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