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American Refugee Committee Expands Relief Efforts To Kosovo

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Minneapolis, June 15, 1999 - The American Refugee Committee (ARC), which has been providing humanitarian assistance to Kosovar refugees in Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, will immediately expand its relief efforts into the war-torn province of Kosovo. The announcement came this morning as the first of ARC's international field staff entered Kosovo. Additional staff are expected to arrive later this week allowing ARC to be fully operational by the week's end.
According to ARC President Tony Kozlowski, ARC will provide health care both to returning refugees and those displaced within Kosovo who were unable to escape from the province. "We know that nearly 800,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees and displaced persons fled the province for neighboring countries and provinces since last March, but we don't know how many people have been hiding out within the province since hostilities began," Kozlowski said. "These people are just now emerging from the mountains. Their medical needs alone will be considerable, notwithstanding the immense task of providing care for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who will be coming back to a devastated homeland."

This effort, Kozlowski said, will be one of the first programs established within Kosovo to assist the victims of that conflict.

ARC field staff comprised of medical professionals with expertise in international humanitarian crises, as well as Kosovar doctors and nurses, will concentrate their efforts first in the Jakovica region which experienced some of the heaviest destruction. In addition to hiring its own medical staff, ARC is working with Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo will send a team-mostly comprised of emeritus staff-including five doctors, two nurses and one administrator to both Albania and Kosovo under ARC's coordination.

"We have been flooded with the images of refugees fleeing Kosovo, guns at their backs and leaving everything behind but what they could carry," Kozlowski said. "While the cessation of the conflict and the eventual return of these victims is good news, it carries with it a whole new set of humanitarian problems. ARC has an obligation to face those problems immediately."

Many have compared the situation in Kosovo to the war in Bosnia. "Certainly, our experience with refugees and internally displaced persons in Bosnia has prepared us for Kosovo," said Kozlowski. "The situations are similar in some respects, but at the same time very different."

Like the victims of the war in Bosnia, Kozlowski said that many of the Kosovars are traumatized and will return to large-scale destruction of homes, schools and hospitals, land mines and booby traps, and mass graves. "The difference is that they will have the security of an international peace-keeping force in place to assure their safe return, and they will return for the most part to ethnic Albanian villages, rather than those ethnically divided communities we have been working with in Bosnia."

Once ARC's medical program is established, the organization will expand its role in Kosovo according to the province's needs. Drawing from years of experience and the success of ARC programs in Bosnia and Croatia, ARC will also focus on water and sanitation and a long-term reconstruction program to assist in provision of basic shelter for returning refugees and those displaced internally. "ARC has been in this region since 1993 and has been a lead agency in facilitating the successful return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes of origin," Kozlowski said. "This has been accomplished through intensive one-on-one case work, discussion with communities of return as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance in Bosnia and Croatia. The road has been long and we expect the same with Kosovo. And just as we are committed for the long term in Bosnia and Croatia, so too are we committed to Kosovar refugees not just for the present but for the future, be it two years or ten."

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Tony Kozlowski, please call Jules Hersman at 612-607-6474 or e-mail pr@archq.org.

Copyright =A9 1999 American Refugee Committee