April 5, 1999
As refugees continue to flow across the borders, NATO decided to relocate 100,000 of them. Margaret Warner talks with Brian Atwood of AID, Karen Abuzayd of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Bill Frelick from the U.S. Committee for Refugees.
JIM LEHRER: And more now on that Kosovo refugee story. Tim Ewart of Independent Television News begins.
TIM EWART: This is the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, a vision more hellish with every passing day. The Macedonian government now estimates that 115,000 people are trying to cross, people they don't want, refugees who they say should be NATO's problem. The first group of refugees were at last allowed to move to a camp run by NATO forces. As British soldiers handed out food, there was anger at what many see as Macedonian indifference. Four thousand people are in the care of NATO tonight, their suffering alleviated, although far from over. This camp is at last offering shelter to some of the refugees. It's a start, albeit a small one. But across those hills on the border with Kosovo, there remain scenes of almost unimaginable misery. The days ahead here are awful to contemplate. NATO countries are talking of airlifts on the clogged roads out of Kosovo; that seems like a distant dream.
|The relocation effort.|
JIM LEHRER: And Margaret Warner takes it from there.
MARGARET WARNER: Three perspectives now on NATO's decision to relocate some 100,000 ethnic Albanian refugees. Brian Atwood is head of the Agency for International Development or AID. President Clinton just named him to coordinate the US refugee rescue effort. Karen AbuZayd is head of the US regional office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which will help coordinate the relocation program. And Bill Frelick, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Committee for Refugees, a private, non-profit group.
MARGARET WARNER: Brian Atwood, starting with you, give us a sense of how this program is going to work. How soon will we see it on a really massive scale? How long will it take to move 100,000 refugees?
BRIAN ATWOOD: Well, it started today. And let me say at the outset that this is not the kind of a program that we like to run. The relocation effort is a temporary one, and these people will be temporarily relocated. They all want to go home. And we expect that they will be going home. The problem is, as you just saw on your show, this is a very serious tragedy on the border of Macedonia. We want to get access to those refugees. The Macedonian government is obviously very sensitive about all of these people coming into their country. Clearly their infrastructure is overwhelmed but there are political ramifications as well. So, we have been negotiating with the Macedonian government. Yesterday, Strobe Talbot and Julia Taft were there, and I believe we're beginning to see some relief.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain Strobe Talbot and Julia Taft, both senior -
BRIAN ATWOOD: That's the Deputy Secretary of State and Julia Taft is the head of the refugee office at the State Department. Today we saw approximately 10,000 people leave this no man's land, as we come to call it, and we're beginning to see some relief there.
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about now just leaving this sort of, as you said, no man's land that's on the border, and they actually were moved into Macedonia.
BRIAN ATWOOD: They were moved to Macedonia. Some were moved to Turkey, approximately 1300, approximately 1300, five or six commercial flights to Turkey. And we'll see more of this. We're getting agreement from European countries on the numbers that they will take in their countries. And we, of course, have agreed to take some 20,000 of these refugees here on a temporary basis again. But we right now have the problem of trying to get supplies in to people who are hungry and who have medical problems and the like. And we've got to negotiate with the governments in the region. As the President announced today, we've started an air bridge of logistical supplies from Italy. We believe that we're beginning to get ahead of this problem. Obviously, it was a massive tragedy, unlike anything we've seen in Europe since World War II.
MARGARET WARNER: Who will be relocated and who will stay and who will make that decision?
BRIAN ATWOOD: Most of the refugees that are coming into Macedonia will be relocated. We estimate -
MARGARET WARNER: So the priority will go there-- excuse me for interrupting.
BRIAN ATWOOD: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: But just to be clear, rather than those who are coming in to Albania or Montenegro.
BRIAN ATWOOD: That's the thinking as of now. But, again we want to coordinate this very carefully with the countries in the region but the Albanian government has been obviously receiving their fellow Albanians from Kosovo and with less political problems and infrastructure problems to date, although obviously we've got people in very, very mountainous areas with a single road from Tirana, to this region in northern Albania. So we've got some serious problems we have to overcome.
MARGARET WARNER: But you were saying so most of them will be those who have massed in the Macedonia-Kosovo border?
BRIAN ATWOOD: That's right.
|The refugees are keen to stay near their land.|
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that in terms of what it will take to get this going and how quickly it will really get underway in a big way?
KAREN ABU ZAYD: Well, I think it will take a few days to get it all organized. As Brian said, this is certainly one of our least priorities for what to do with refugees, moving them away from the first countries of asylum, the neighboring countries and the refugees themselves are very keen to stay where they are near their land. Also, we want to emphasize the temporary nature of this, that the people do come back again. And you asked a good question is, how do you decide which 100,000 go? We're doing this because we want to save their lives; we want to get them into Macedonia and, therefore, out of Macedonia because Macedonia is demanding, and also, as my colleagues in Geneva said to save Macedonia. This is the reason we've resorted to this. But it will be difficult to select the people. There have to be some criteria. The people should go voluntarily, only those who want to go. And we want to keep families together. Right now we think we probably should take people who are well enough to go, not the medically vulnerable. But this is still being discussed, so there are lots of issues that need to be decided first.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you make of this NATO plan?
BILL FRELICK: Well, I think that the question of keeping families intact is very important, and of course it has to be voluntary. The refugees that I spoke to in Northern Albania -- this was late last year-- to a person all wanted to return. And in many cases when I was talking to them, it is highly inaccessible area, as Brian indicated -- one ferry, one road. The road is not in very good condition. I was asking people, why not take the ferry? Why don't you go into Central Albania? And they're saying because, "My son is right across the border; my husband is fighting." The men are going to stay and they're going to fight. And almost any family I can conceive of that would be taken out would not be an intact family, would not be a whole family. So, almost of necessity we're talking about a very temporary system, a set-up here, where the refugees themselves are intent on returning, where the international community is committed to their return. So this is a very different program than the traditional refugee response where resettlement is seen as a durable solution, where resettlement is seen as the permanent acceptance of exile. And here we have a use of a settlement, which we think of in terms of permanent settlement used on a temporary basis. This is pretty much unprecedented.
|Why not on the mainland of the U.S.?|
MARGARET WARNER: Have you done any canvassing of the refugees there to find out how many really would want to go? I mean, obviously you can't have talked to 100,000 people? Do you have any sense?
KAREN ABU ZAYD: I think as Bill has just said, all the refugees we've talked to so far are saying they don't want to go. So, that's what we have to find out. We have to convince them that this is the only solution for them at this moment.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's talk about the US situation. Ken Bacon, the Pentagon spokesman, said today that you all were leaning towards using Guantanamo Base in Cuba. Why there? Why not on the mainland of the U.S.?
BRIAN ATWOOD: No decision has been made yet, though I think that's right that we are leaning in that direction. But that facility has been used in the past, of course, for refugees who are there on a temporary basis. We want to emphasize that this is a temporary location. I think if they were to relocate in the United States, it would be more difficult to emphasize that.
MARGARET WARNER: Why?
BRIAN ATWOOD: Well, I think because we've had facilities in Guantanamo that have been used in the past. And this may be the best location, although as I mentioned before, we haven't made that decision yet.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you make of - I mean, well, let me ask you this: Is there an agreement among the NATO countries how these refugees will be taken care of? Are they always going to be in bases, kept together, warehoused, or each country do what it likes?
KAREN ABU ZAYD: There will be different programs, I believe. It is still being discussed. There was a long, all day meeting in Geneva. There will be more confirmation of numbers in places tomorrow, I believe, but some places they will not put them in the camps. But, again on the family reunification issue, there are families that people have in Europe that they'd like to join and that the families would like them to join them. So, we hope that that would be a first priority too rather than putting them in facility somewhere.
MARGARET WARNER: If some who come to Guantanamo Bay, if they have relatives in the United States who want to take them in, would they be allowed to do that?
BRIAN ATWOOD: I'm not sure I know the answer to that question at this point. I think we have to see exactly who is going to be there and what their desires are. But I think that the idea would be that this is not a long haul situation, that they will be there for a very short period of time. Again, no one knows but one would anticipate that.
|When they get where they were going.|
MARGARET WARNER: What's your thought on this how you take care of them when they get where they're going?
BILL FRELICK: Well, the experience at Guantanamo is not a happy one. There were Haitian refugees and Cuban refugees that were brought there against their will. They were interdicted by the Coast Guard and held. I was in Guantanamo on several occasions-- in 1994 and 1995 -- to see coils of concertina wire not only in the perimeter of the camp but going right down the middle of the camp. It's not a place you would want your children to be playing for fear that they would slice themselves up in one of the camp's watchtowers. It looked like a POW camp, rather than a refugee camp. And I think that the military has done a terrific job on short notice in many instances in providing the basics of shelter and food and medical care. But when it comes to creating a livable environment, they need some civilian help. I would give them about a six-month window here where there's a honeymoon period where people have a sense of hope that the situation at home is being addressed, that they might be able to return. But after that point, if there's a sense that this is indeterminate, then you have a whole slew of social and psychological problems that occur, that can be very serious, where people begin to feel, are we the next Palestinian generation and we're going to be in camps for 40 years or what have you?
BRIAN ATWOOD: Margaret, let me just say that one of the reasons we have not made a decision about Guantanamo is because wherever we put people, we want to make sure that it is a hospitable environment. And, if it were to be Guantanamo, there would be a great deal of work that needs to be done to make the facilities acceptable.
MARGARET WARNER: But would the United States Government be prepared to not have them housed in that kind of a facility where essentially they're penned in, that's what it sounds like you're saying.
BRIAN ATWOOD: Well, look, the decision was made to take 20,000 of these refugees just yesterday or the day before, there has not been a lot of time to consider this. We don't want people to feel penned in. These are the victims of the tragedy of a dictator in Europe. We clearly want them to understand that they are guests while they're here and they're only going to be here temporarily.
MARGARET WARNER: Yet, you just heard Secretary-General Solana tell Jim that at the same time they don't want the refugees dispersed widely because it will be harder to get them back.
KAREN ABU ZAYD: Well, one of the conditions, apparently, that is being set out for all the countries who are taking them is that they also be willing to bring them back. Now, that's a problem for some countries that don't have a great lot of resources who are already asking for help from other countries even to set up the facilities: Greece, Turkey. Greece, for example, has said they're happy to take 6,000 but they want them in a camp run by UNHCR, with UNHCR logos, so it's clear that they are refugees, temporarily there, and will be moving again.
MARGARET WARNER: Any other countries set forth certain sort of conditions like that?
KAREN ABU ZAYD: Not that I know of.
MARGARET WARNER: In Germany, what's been the experience, because I noticed Germany's taking the largest group, 40,000?
BILL FRELICK: Well, Germany of course has the experience of having taken the largest number of Bosnian refugees as well. Germany was very insistent on a temporary protection regime saying that the refugees are expected to return, that they have to return to Bosnia. I don't want to suggest that the situations are exactly the same between the two countries. But it's in part based on that experience that I think the Germans and some of the other Europeans have been reluctant to openly declare their receptivity up until now. Somebody has done a good job of negotiating to get them to come around on that.
MARGARET WARNER: A final quick question to you: 100,000 Is about a quarter of the numbers that have left so far. The estimates are another half million could be coming out. Do you think this 100,000 relocation will have to grow?
BRIAN ATWOOD: I hope not. We have up to 160,000 people. It may grow to as many as 750 or a million people. We're clearly going to have to start to prepare for the long haul and for many more refugees. I hope not but it's possible.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.
KAREN ABU ZAYD: Thank you.