Macedonia cracking under the burden of refugees

  • National staff : 150
  • International staff : 40

    At the end of March 1999, over 250,000 ethnic Albanians were driven into the Former Yugoslvian Republic of Macedonia. During the first chaotic days, both the Macedonian government and people went to great lengths to provide a temporary haven for the refugees. But under the surface, ethnic tensions are simmering and the economy has started to fall apart.

    Macedonia already had a significant population of ethnic Albanians before the massive deportation of Kosovars. As of late March, more and more were forced into Macedonia from Kosovo. Initially, the government was very reluctant to receive the refugees, afraid that the ethnic balance would tip over. For many days, a large group was out in the open at the border near Blace, unable to move back or forth, cut off by police from aid supplies.

    Later camps were set up in Stenkocic, Cegrane and other places. MSF constructed field hospitals in the largest camps, checked the health of newly arriving refugees, prepared for potential epidemics and started mental health programmes to help people cope with their traumatic experiences. In the transit camp at Blace, MSF provided and maintained toilets and washing points.

    Meanwhile the majority of refugees found shelter with families. These people needed help with their access to health and emotional traumas as well. In Debar district, MSF supported local clinics and launched a mental health programme. In Tetovo, MSF also initiated a training programme for counsellors, in close collaboration with the Macedonian Ministry of Health. For its work in the crisis, MSF decided to decline any funding from governments who had a military involvement in the conflict.