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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK

Tragedy on a massive scale

Tractor-loads of Kosovo refugees arrive at the Macedonian border

By James Naughtie of BBC's Today programme

It is a stream that goes on and on - the simplest thing to try to take you into this scene is to describe quite straightforwardly what I can see on this bitterly cold morning.

Kosovo: Special Report
There's a dank mist almost freezing, clinging to the hills and to the high snow-peaked caps which aren't far away from me, and which indeed are over the border in Kosovo.

I can see a village just clinging to the slopes over there, the minaret of a mosque. We heard the muezzin calling as the cocks crowed round about earlier on.

It's an extraordinary scene and a few yards away from me, mingled in with some scrawny donkeys and a scene of all sorts of debris, are groups of refugees.

They've been coming here all night, as they've been coming day after day in tractor carts, some of them walking, wrapped up in whatever they can find.

Arriving in Macedonia

[ image: Refugees clamour at the gates as the Macedonian police check documents]
Refugees clamour at the gates as the Macedonian police check documents
The women, the old women, many of them very old, in headscarves looking terribly drawn and pale. The children - many of them weeping, looking really quite weak.

The men, some of them pretty hale and hearty and reasonably well-fed but having had clearly a terrible journey.

They are crowding into the old school here where one of the French aid agencies is looking after them.

Many of them are being met by friends and relatives but it's a scene which does reduce, I think, anyone seeing it to something near despair and just as I turn round and look across the valley, a great dip in the landscape here - a lovely tree-lined landscape in other circumstances - I'm looking into Kosovo.

I know - as everyone here knows - in those hills wreathed in mist there are people making their way from scenes which they say are atrocious and terrifying to the relative safety of this place.

Bleak and cold it may be but it's a place that they need and it's a place to which many tens of thousands of them are apparently heading as I speak.

The atrocities have been left behind

[ image: Macedonian soldiers block the road as refugees arrive at the border]
Macedonian soldiers block the road as refugees arrive at the border
Across these hills, they say, not very far from us here they've left bloody scenes and death. A man waits beside us and he will for as long as it takes.

No one knows for certain how many there are here, or on the Albanian border to our west, though it's many tens of thousands and no one knows how many more will come.

The Macedonian authorities are now visibly nervy - they're deliberately slowing up the checks that they make. On the other side of this border they speak of a seven-mile queue waiting to be let through. So it is a trickle - hour by hour, family by family, but it never stops.

No one here is discussing Nato bombing - there aren't any orange flashes in this night sky. Here they speak of individual acts of horror. These are the tales that will become these people's legends. A memory that they will all share.

[ image: Huddling on the hillside waiting to cross the border]
Huddling on the hillside waiting to cross the border
Who knows exactly what happened, who will ever know? You do know though that in these quiet crowds with their intermittent surges of emotion at the sight of another tractor-load or the sound of another baby crying, there is tragedy on a gargantuan scale in Europe in 1999.

In the flickering lights of the mosque you see this community of Kosovo Albanians huddling together.

In the old school littered with clothes and food cartons and all the detritus of food poverty you find the doctors from Medicin du Monde saying the world must know.

Night in the folds of these Balkan hills but no rest - this long and terrible story has as yet no end.

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