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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 12:12 GMT

Where did all the Kosovars go?

Every day the numbers change, as the exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo continues.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata: "The reason for this displacement is fear"
Thousands have fled because of repression by the Serbian authorities or as a result of clashes involving the Serbian security forces and Kosovo Albanian fighters.

Overall, the Kosovo conflict has displaced well over 300,000 people, of whom some 210,000 currently remain inside Kosovo.

Kosovo strikes
Continuing clashes and the prevailing sense of fear and insecurity have continued to drive people from their homes.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, at least 20,000 ethnic Albanians have fled their homes in north-western Kosovo, during attacks by Serb forces in March.

Particularly badly hit was the village of Srbica. Fighting intensified after the withdrawal of international monitors from Kosovo following the breakdown of peace talks in Paris.

The UNHCR also said more than 5,000 people fled clashes in and around the village of Racak in the early weeks of this year.

[ image: Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo protest against Serbian government]
Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo protest against Serbian government
Many young men have joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, while others have emigrated because they do not want to become involved in the conflict with the Serbs, who make up 10% of Kosovo's population.

The vast majority of ethnic Albanian refugees have been those displaced within Kosovo, many of them having to camp outdoors in the harsh Balkan winter.

Tens of thousands fled to Serbia and Montenegro. Some of these were former government officials or others accused of collaboration, who fled for fear of reprisals by the KLA.

Living conditions for the refugees are generally poor, with several families crowded into one house.

There have also been violent clashes between Serbian police and Kosovo Albanian refugees in the Muslim enclave of Sandzak and southeastern Serbia proper.

Thousands more have crossed the border into Albania where, although the welcome is warmest, economic conditions are desperate.

Many of these refugees crossed hazardous mountain trails to reach the Tropoje area of northern Albania, where they received support from relatives and strangers alike.

[ image: Thousands of Kosovars have lost loved ones]
Thousands of Kosovars have lost loved ones
Others travelled north to Bosnia, where they received a mixed welcome in Sarajevo.

Bosnia's minister for refugees, Beriz Belkic, accused the Kosovo Albanians of trying to make a "ghetto" in the capital and said: "If the arrival of Albanians continues, Sarajevo will not be a city but a peasant village.".

Thousands more have got as far as Germany, Turkey, Britain and even Ireland.

UNHCR spokeswoman Lyndall Sachs: "Albanians are treated as second class citizens"
Lyndall Sachs, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says: "These refugees should not be confused with earlier generations of Kosovars who moved abroad earlier this century.

"Many ended up in the United States and Australia, where I come from. In fact my first marriage proposal was from a Kosovar."

She said: "A lot of the refugees headed to Sarajevo because they believed they would be looked after by the UN and taken to the West.

"But that hasn't happened - there are thousands of Bosnians who are ahead of them in the queue."

[ image: The Yugoslav army has been accused of human rights abuses in Kosovo]
The Yugoslav army has been accused of human rights abuses in Kosovo
Ms Sachs said: "They are very vulnerable to clandestine, criminal groups who are becoming increasingly involved in human trafficking, which is less risky and almost as profitable as drug trafficking."

In 1998, there were several incidents, especially in Britain, when illegal immigrants from Kosovo were dumped at motorway service stations or found stowed away on ferries.

The UNHCR has spent millions of dollars tackling the problem of Kosovo's refugees. It estimates that, in the first six weeks of 1999, despite the nominal ceasefire in force in the province, more than 45,000 people fled their homes.

Some returned as localised clashes died down. Others have remained away from their villages, adding to the statistics of Kosovo's displaced.

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