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Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK

World: Europe

Serbia's silent refugee crisis

The refugees have no idea what will become of them

By the BBC's Brian Hanrahan

Kosovo: Special Report
Serbia now has the biggest refugee crisis in Europe, but nobody wants to know.

Brian Hanrahan:Serbia has the biggest refugee crisis in Europe
The Serbian Government, desperate to cover up its failures, ignores the refugees, leaving local authorities to house them in schools and kindergartens.

People who left their homes with almost nothing are stuck in squalid, smelly halls without proper places to cook or wash.

The local authorities cannot feed them, so their care is left to the Red Cross.

[ image: The children are sufferring from anxiety]
The children are sufferring from anxiety
But the organisation is already overrun with 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and can only offer minimal help to this new wave.

Internationally there is scant sympathy for Serbs of any sort.

Even humanitarian aid is slow in coming.

The refugees are lucky if they get one food handout of staples like sugar, oil and flour a month. That supply lasts only a week.

They have asked for more food and for shoes and clothing for the children, but they do not know when it will arrive.

One family has been taken in by relatives in a small village house. Where four people used to live, there are now 10, including three extra children and a grandmother.

[ image: Sympathy is in small supply]
Sympathy is in small supply
One single bed has to be shared by five anxious children.

The beds are wet because the children are uprooted and unhappy.

Nobody has a job, yet they insist on offering coffee and homemade brandy.

It is clear that the refugees have no idea what will become of them. The longer they stay the less likely they are to go home.

The chances are that the Kosovo refugees will become, like the Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia, a permanent burden on the Serbian economy and a reminder of Serbia's military and political failures.

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