View Full Version : Hillary on Kosovo 1999

05-10-2007, 10:03 AM


May 5, 1999


"I'm writing because the faces on the news of the frightened children fleeing the war in Kosovo are haunting," begins a letter to the White House from Port Jervis, N.Y. "Our country MUST help these people, and soon."

Here are some of the other letters the President and I have received about the refugees from Kosovo:

A woman in Pleasanton, Calif., wrote: "Can you tell me what it takes for a community (like my church) to sponsor a family from Kosovo? I can only imagine what it must be like for a family with nothing left, in the cold, hungry and forced to go to a country where they are unfamiliar with the culture and have no human ties. We can make it better for at least one family."

This from Sandy, Utah: "We have two extra bedrooms in our home and are willing to help house a refugee family. We support what you are doing and want to help in any way we can."

And finally, one from San Diego: "On behalf of my family, I would like to extend an invitation to host a family from Kosovo. We have been watching the news almost around the clock and feel compelled to help in some capacity. Macedonia has been sending refugees to homes inside their country, and we would like to provide the same. We believe that humanitarian efforts must start with the individual. We are hoping that other households will help in the same manner."

These letters represent just a fraction of the outpouring of support for the refugees that has come to the White House, and they remind me of one reason I'm proud to be an American: Whenever and wherever people are in need, Americans stand ready to help.

This week, I traveled to Fort Dix in New Jersey, to represent the President and the people of the United States in welcoming the first group of Kosovar refugees from Macedonia arriving in our country. Like hundreds of thousands of others, they've witnessed appalling atrocities.

In Djakovica, in Kosovo, 19 people -- members of three families -- who were hiding in the basement of a house were discovered by Serbian authorities. All were shot, and the house was burned. Bodies littered the streets of Meja, where the killing of scores of men was reported several days ago. One woman said, "I have seen so much horror, I just close my eyes."

Everywhere, refugees search for lost loved ones. One desperate, young couple frantically sought news of their 17-day-old infant, left behind in the intensive care unit of a local hospital when Serb forces drove them from their home. The plight of a 10-year-old girl, who is caring for her infant brother while authorities try to locate their parents, is not unusual.

In one 24-hour period earlier this week, more than 11,600 Kosovars arrived in Macedonia, bringing to nearly 700,000 the number of refugees and displaced persons who have fled the terror that Slobodan Milosevic and his regime have inflicted on the ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. The burden on the refugee camps in the area is overwhelming, and many countries have responded by agreeing to house those who are most vulnerable or have family members to welcome them.

Some of those coming to the United States have relatives anxiously awaiting their arrival. Families, churches and agencies around the country will sponsor housing for others. Literally tens of thousands of Americans have offered help of some kind. Here's what you can do:

Because of the cost of transporting, storing and distributing unsolicited goods, clothing and services, relief agencies prefer monetary donations. For a list of those accepting contributions, you can call this toll-free number: 1-800-USAID-RELIEF (1-800-872-4373). Since this hot line was set up on April 6, operators have fielded 43,631 calls. You can also get the list at this web site: www.interaction.org.

If you have relatives in the camps in Albania and Macedonia and you want to bring them to this country -- or for information about local refugee resettlement agencies in your area -- you can call this toll-free number: 1-800-727-4420 or e-mail kosovo@interaction.org.

Every offer of help is an offer of hope. The people of America are sending the people of Kosovo a very strong message: You are not abandoned. You are not forgotten. Slobodan Milosevic has not succeeded in erasing your identity from the pages of history, and he will not succeed in erasing your presence from the land of your parents and grandparents.

We can provide temporary help, but we know that what the refugees want and need most is to be able to return to their homeland. That goal is the reason the United States and its NATO allies remain committed to the mission they have undertaken.


Here is another



May 19, 1999


Their faces may no longer appear on the front pages of our newspapers and magazines, but there are still nearly 750,000 Kosovar Albanians unable to return to their homes because of the ruthless determination of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Nearly 250,000 are in Macedonia alone.

Last week, I traveled to Macedonia to visit the Stenkovac I refugee camp, located outside Skopje in a region of lush, green hills dotted with small farms. Thousands of tents -- in rows as far as the eye can see -- cover a dusty expanse about the size of 80 football fields. As many as 31,000 refugees -- most of them children -- have crowded into the camp in the last six weeks.

It was a hot, dry day when I arrived at Stenkovac to meet some of the men, women and children who have made this tent city their temporary home. Most were separated from a family member in the crush to get out of Kosovo alive, and everyone is surviving on the hope that one day soon they will return to their villages and be reunited with their loved ones.

A 63-year-old woman told me she doesn't know where her daughter and grandchildren are. They were with the daughter's in-laws when Serb police stormed the house, held guns to their throats and ordered them to leave.

One of the men I met cried when he remembered the funeral of a friend in his village: Serb police surrounded the mourners as they stood at the grave, threatening to kill them all. Then, they stripped the Albanians of their money and valuables and drove them away.

I also spoke with a man who, in fluent English, told me that his wife and children were visiting her father when the Serbs arrived, forcing him to flee without them. Six weeks later, he is still trying to find them.

I will never forget the last story I heard that day. A woman described the crush of refugees being herded onto trains to leave Kosovo. She held tightly to the hand of her oldest daughter who, in turn, held onto the younger children. Horrified, she felt her daughter's hand slip away. Forced by the authorities to board a train, she realized that her girls and her husband, who was trying to find them, were lost. Today, she, too, lives without any word of where they are or even whether they are still alive.

For 10 years, Milosevic has oppressed the Albanian population in Kosovo. First, they were forbidden to go to the theater or sporting events, and their schools were closed. Then, block by block, Milosevic began ordering families out of their homes, until he was expelling Kosovar Albanians in the massive numbers we have witnessed in the last two months.

Once, these people lived in their own homes. Parents worked, and children went to schools. Today, they huddle in crowded tents. They wait in line for food -- bread, canned fish, cheese, juice and milk. They wait in line to use portable toilets and phones, and to get word of missing loved ones.

And these are the lucky ones.

Although the conditions they live in are unimaginable to most of us, they have food and rudimentary shelter. A remarkable assemblage of some 20 relief organizations, led by Catholic Relief Services and under the authority of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, runs the Stenkovac I camp, providing care for the children, medical treatment and social services.

There are two UNICEF schools and a youth center run by an Israeli organization, where children of all ages can enjoy arts, crafts, games and music. The German Red Cross has opened a hospital. Medical teams have arrived from France and as far away as Taiwan. The International Rescue Committee, an American group, is trying to reunite families. And many of the refugees themselves are volunteering their services around the camp.

Every single person I met at Stenkovac has one thing in common: Each one wants to go home. And, despite the horrors they have endured, they all told me how grateful they are to the United States and the NATO allies for standing up to Slobodan Milosevic. As the refugees told me their stories, their eyes filled with tears, just as their hearts are filled with hope.

Veton Sylejmani, who came to this country with his wife and 7-month-old son, Albert, summed it up best at the White House this week when he said, "I don't know what else to say except God bless America."

We cannot let these people down. We must tell and retell their stories, because there is no more powerful argument for why the United States and our NATO allies are in Kosovo. There is no more powerful justification for why we will not give up until the evils perpetrated by Milosevic have ended and these refugees are once again living in their own homes in peace and security.




05-11-2007, 04:24 PM