[HPN] refugees

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Tue, 11 Apr 2000 23:51:50 -0400


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Wandering in the Wilderness
           =20
            Refugees are homeless, stateless=97and often hopeless. The =
least we can do is help them hold fast to their identities.=20
           =20
            By William Shawcross=20
           =20
            Refugees are like sands scattered by hostile political =
winds. They are a fourth world, the symbols of the 20th century=97they =
include Armenians, Russians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims, Palestinians, =
Hungarians, Cubans, Biafrans, Bengalis, Vietnamese, Laotians, =
Cambodians, Chileans, Czechoslovakians, Ethiopians, Somalis, Rwandans, =
Afghans, Bosnians, Croats, Serbs=97and now Kosovars. In the last weeks, =
we have witnessed atrocious scenes in Macedonia and Albania as hundreds =
of thousands of refugees struggle, terrified, out of Kosovo. The images, =
sadly, conjure up other mass exoduses from brutal regimes, and the ways =
in which the world has=97or has not=97dealt with them.=20
            Although the television pictures of human suffering may be =
familiar, Kosovo, in some ways, is a novel kind of crisis. The sheer =
speed with which vast numbers were moved from their homes has been seen =
before (in, for example, Rwanda), but the way in which the refugees were =
helped was new. In Kosovo, humanitarianism has been militarized. Last =
week it was NATO that built refugee camps in Macedonia, relocated those =
who had left their homes and sent 8,000 troops to Albania, apparently to =
assist the Kosovars who had fled there. It is, to say the least, =
unexpected for one of the parties to a combat to undertake vast =
humanitarian aid of this sort.=20

            NATO's help was unusual but not unwelcome. Governments and =
international agencies were taken by surprise at the extent of the =
outflow. UNHCR expected about 100,000 refugees, but so far more than =
600,000 have left for neighboring countries. In Macedonia, NATO's camps =
helped relieve the terrible squalor in which refugees had been dumped. =
The soldiers have since been turning care over to the United Nations =
High Commissioner for Refugees and to nongovernmental organizations. By =
last weekend supplies=97like food, cooking utensils and blankets=97were =
flowing into the area. But we should have done better, earlier: the =
Balkans are only an hour from Italy. The world was not confronted, for =
example, with a crisis in the Sudan.=20

            Is there anything we can learn from refugee crises of the =
past? One lesson, perhaps, is that the longer refugees remain stateless =
and homeless, the more dangerous their situation will become. =
Relief=97food and shelter=97can never be a substitute for a political =
settlement. Consider Rwanda. In April 1994 about 250,000 Rwandans =
crossed into Tanzania in the space of 24 hours; within five months, 2 =
million Rwandans had left their own country. Most of those who fled were =
Hutus, forced out by their village leaders, many of whom were implicated =
in the genocide of Rwanda's Tutsis. In the absence of a political =
settlement, genuine refugees were terrorized for three years by =
murderous militias. Despite repeated pleas from the United Nations for =
help in separating the killers from the innocents, no government would =
send troops to do so. The impasse ended only in late 1996 when Rwanda =
broke up the camps and drove the refugees=97innocents and killers =
alike=97back home or deep into Congo, where about 200,000 people =
disappeared forever.=20

            In Cambodia, too, the failure of politicians made a refugee =
crisis worse. Half a million fled the country after the Vietnamese =
overthrew the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in late 1978. Many of them =
arrived at the Thai border in ghastly conditions=97they had been dragged =
by the Khmer Rouge into the jungle and mountains, and died by the =
hundreds from starvation and disease as they stumbled into the camps. It =
suited governments=97from Washington to Beijing=97to keep them there. =
For the next decade the Khmer Rouge and other groups controlled the =
camps and their people. Only an international peace agreement ended this =
stalemate in 1991 and allowed the refugees to return home.=20

            =20
             =20


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Wandering in the=20 Wilderness

Refugees=20 are homeless, stateless—and often hopeless. The least = we can=20 do is help them hold fast to their identities. =

By William Shawcross

Refugees are=20 like sands scattered by hostile political winds. They are a = fourth=20 world, the symbols of the 20th century—they include = Armenians,=20 Russians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims, Palestinians, = Hungarians,=20 Cubans, Biafrans, Bengalis, Vietnamese, Laotians, = Cambodians,=20 Chileans, Czechoslovakians, Ethiopians, Somalis, Rwandans, = Afghans,=20 Bosnians, Croats, Serbs—and now Kosovars. In the last = weeks,=20 we have witnessed atrocious scenes in Macedonia and Albania = as=20 hundreds of thousands of refugees struggle, terrified, out = of=20 Kosovo. The images, sadly, conjure up other mass exoduses = from=20 brutal regimes, and the ways in which the world has—or = has=20 not—dealt with them.=20

Although the television pictures of human suffering may = be=20 familiar, Kosovo, in some ways, is a novel kind of crisis. = The sheer=20 speed with which vast numbers were moved from their homes = has been=20 seen before (in, for example, Rwanda), but the way in which = the=20 refugees were helped was new. In Kosovo, humanitarianism has = been=20 militarized. Last week it was NATO that built refugee camps = in=20 Macedonia, relocated those who had left their homes and sent = 8,000=20 troops to Albania, apparently to assist the Kosovars who had = fled=20 there. It is, to say the least, unexpected for one of the = parties to=20 a combat to undertake vast humanitarian aid of this sort.=20

NATO's help was unusual but not unwelcome. Governments = and=20 international agencies were taken by surprise at the extent = of the=20 outflow. UNHCR expected about 100,000 refugees, but so far = more than=20 600,000 have left for neighboring countries. In Macedonia, = NATO's=20 camps helped relieve the terrible squalor in which refugees = had been=20 dumped. The soldiers have since been turning care over to = the United=20 Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to = nongovernmental=20 organizations. By last weekend supplies—like food, = cooking=20 utensils and blankets—were flowing into the area. But = we=20 should have done better, earlier: the Balkans are only an = hour from=20 Italy. The world was not confronted, for example, with a = crisis in=20 the Sudan.=20

Is there anything we can learn from refugee crises of the = past?=20 One lesson, perhaps, is that the longer refugees remain = stateless=20 and homeless, the more dangerous their situation will = become.=20 Relief—food and shelter—can never be a = substitute for a=20 political settlement. Consider Rwanda. In April 1994 about = 250,000=20 Rwandans crossed into Tanzania in the space of 24 hours; = within five=20 months, 2 million Rwandans had left their own country. Most = of those=20 who fled were Hutus, forced out by their village leaders, = many of=20 whom were implicated in the genocide of Rwanda's Tutsis. In = the=20 absence of a political settlement, genuine refugees were = terrorized=20 for three years by murderous militias. Despite repeated = pleas from=20 the United Nations for help in separating the killers from = the=20 innocents, no government would send troops to do so. The = impasse=20 ended only in late 1996 when Rwanda broke up the camps and = drove the=20 refugees—innocents and killers alike—back home = or deep=20 into Congo, where about 200,000 people disappeared forever.=20

In Cambodia, too, the failure of politicians made a = refugee=20 crisis worse. Half a million fled the country after the = Vietnamese=20 overthrew the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in late 1978. Many = of them=20 arrived at the Thai border in ghastly conditions—they = had been=20 dragged by the Khmer Rouge into the jungle and mountains, = and died=20 by the hundreds from starvation and disease as they stumbled = into=20 the camps. It suited governments—from Washington to=20 Beijing—to keep them there. For the next decade the = Khmer=20 Rouge and other groups controlled the camps and their = people. Only=20 an international peace agreement ended this stalemate in = 1991 and=20 allowed the refugees to return home.=20

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