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June 17, 2000
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 443
Kosovo Refugees - A Year After

Be Quiet and Suffer

by Dusan Radulovic

With just a little adornment, the motel 'Sicevo', some twenty kilometres away from Nis, near the border with Bulgaria, would be quite a nice place for rest in the middle of the road. Splendid natural environment and a great terrace simply attract the travellers, although while we were driving towards the motel, the storm was just about to come up. A big restaurant was empty, only one idle waiter was killing his time by doing crossword puzzles. We asked him about refugees from Kosovo.

'They are here', he said and went to invite some of them. Then, he returned with two more people, we greeted each other, and one of them invited us to his room. There were children inside, four of them, slightly nervous because of it was raining and they could not go outside. Two women were trying to calm them down, and offered us coffee. On one wall there was a picture of Slobodan Milosevic, below that one, a picture of general Nebojsa Pavkovic.

Not many questions were necessary to initiate the conversation...

Exactly a year ago, Milorad Obradovic (41), his older brother and sister-in-law left the village of Kos nearby Istok. They were among the last five families which set out only when they found out that the army was about to withdraw.

'The eldest son, twenty years old, did not want to leave', Slavica Lacmanovic (38), mother of six children, recalls. "He said, 'only cowards run away'. He and another four boys wanted to remain there and guard the village. Only when they realised that it was impossible, they joined us in our escape."

Like many other Kosovo Serbs, they loaded the most essential belongings on a tractor: several electrical appliances, some furniture, bed linen and clothing - and they joined the line of refugees heading towards Serbia. They stayed some time in Kraljevo, about three months. They lived in a school, in some kind of group accommodation. Afterwards, the commission for refugees offered them a few locations for a more permanent lodging. They chose Sicevo, two tiny rooms in a local motel.

'The other options of accommodation were much worse', says Milorad.

Three adults and six children accommodated in two tiny rooms of a motel. One of them contains two beds, the other also two, but two-level beds. The same motel also houses another four families from the village of Kos. In total, 27 individuals. The state pays food for them, which is prepared in the motel's kitchen. It is quite similar with packages containing means for personal hygiene. Before, they used to receive them once a month, and now only each two or three months. They get something from UNHCR.

'Our Red Cross agent never came to visit us, to inspect our accommodation and food, to ask if there is anything we might need for children', said Slavica. 'While we were in Kraljevo, a doctor used to visit us every morning to examine both the kids and us. Here, they only came twice within the period of nine months, they examined the adults and gave some tablets to those who needed them. That's it.'

Milorad and his brother manage to get some season jobs. They are civic engineers. There are jobs available around Nis, people build houses, but wages are quite low. The eldest son went to Montenegro, to Budva, to look for a job. They rarely go to Nis, although it is only some twenty kilometres away from where they currently live. The reason is because they have no money for bus or train tickets.

'That's why I say that someone from the Health Centre should come here and at least examine the children', says Slavica.

Milorad says that he does not even think of the future, he does not make plans. He lives from one day until the other and - waits.

'This is what politics created. Politics brought us here, maybe it's politics who is going to bring us back. I don't know, we'll see', he says.

'We would go back, if only there were peace', adds Slavica. 'We had so much there, the land, cattle, garden. Our children had enough milk and cheese. They didn't lack anything. I never thought that my children would ever be hungry. We worked and we had so much. We didn't even feel how we raised our children, now they long for all that. Everything is ruined down there, burned to the ground. Those who went to visit the village say that they even destroyed our orchards.'

'Of course we would return. Even if it's all burned, it doesn't matter, we would find a way to live somehow', adds Milorad. 'We had everything there, here we have nothing, you can see for yourself. There is no one from our village who would not go back. People are different here. There is no land to cultivate, there are no jobs, it's so difficult to earn some money. We all hope to return one day.'

'We hope, but who knows what it's going to happen... ', says Slavica with a sigh. 'I would prefer to go back, even to start everything anew, to regain what we used to have, to have cattle again... I would not ask for anything more.'

She said that her biggest worries were her adolescent son and daughter. They have difficulties in getting well with others of their age, they have no money for going out, her son is permanently frowned, anxious. Slavica told us with bitterness that, for New Year's Eve, some people from Belgrade paid them a visit, asking for their names and sizes of footwear and clothes. They promised to get them jackets and trainings. For Christmas, she and her husband received everything, but their children - nothing.

'Perhaps they thought that I lied about having six children, that I wanted to cheat on them and sell those things', she said. 'I know it's a bit strange for Kosovo Serbs to have that many children, but as you can see, it is so in our case.'

'There are also refugees from Croatia who were settled in Kosovo', says Milorad. 'If you wished to ask them how we welcomed them at home, they would praise us for that. But here in Serbia...'

'They received us poorly, they behave poorly, especially towards the children', adds Slavica. 'If we require something, which we should get, they threaten us with emigration. Our neighbour Jovo Popovic was equally threatened when he complained about some bed linen which was meant for us, but apparently disappeared. He didn't ask it for himself, but for all of us, and the manager threatened him with emigration. You are not allowed to complain here, you must keep quiet and suffer.'

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