MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 7

International Socialist Review, Spring 1999

Notes of the Quarter

The Refugee Crisis: Nowhere to Go

From International Socialist Review, Issue 7, Spring 1999.
Downloaded with thanks as a PDF from the ISR Archive.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The massive refugee crisis sparked by the war over Kosovo has created misery on a massive scale. At the time of this writing, more than 600,000 Kosovar Albanians had fled Kosovo – mostly into Albania and Macedonia but also into the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. The suffering of the refugees, beamed around the world on television, pressured the NATO governments into offering to take in 100,000 of them.

Once refugees began pouring over the Albanian and Macedonian border, Western powers could not simply claim to be acting on their behalf without appearing to do something to help them materially.

Public pressure, for example, forced French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to reverse himself and offer to accept Kosovars – albeit “temporarily” and only a “certain number.” Turkey took in 4,000 to 5,000 refugees by early April – but some went there in a manner that a reporter from Reuters described “more like a forced deportation than a mercy flight.” For its part, the U.S. agreed to take in 20,000 Kosovars – but said it would send them to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The base most recently served as a concentration camp for Haitian refugees, who protested overcrowding and poor conditions before being sent back home. And since Guantanamo isn’t officially on U.S. soil, the Kosovars won’t be eligible to apply for asylum. The U.S. then did an about-face and announced it would set up refugee camps inside Albania.

This reluctance to take in refugees highlights the hypocrisy of the NATO bombing campaign. While purporting to help the Kosovars, the NATO attacks have only made Serbia’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo worse. Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark admitted as much when he said: “It was always understood from the outset that there was no way we were going to stop these paramilitary forces from going into these villages and attacking.” What’s more, there is a massive disproportion in the money NATO countries spent on aid to refugees compared to the billions spent on the military campaign. The U.S. promised an initial $50 million for refugee relief – the cost of just one F-117 Stealth fighter. They later raised the figure to $150 million – still paltry compared to the $1.8 billion spent on a B-2 bomber. Though NATO did make a show of using troops previously stationed in Macedonia to aid the refugees, they did nothing to prevent 30,000 Kosovar refugees from disappearing from a Macedonia camp literally overnight – reportedly forced to go to Albania by Macedonian authorities.

The refugee camps lack fresh water, basic sanitary facilities and food. But NATO – which can move millions of tons of military equipment within hours – didn’t rush food, shelter and water to the area. Instead, NATO prioritized its bombing runs over refugee flights and moved artillery batteries into northern Albania – even though return fire from Yugoslav forces could hit refugee camps. So much for Western leaders’ denunciation of Milosevic for using “human shields” at military targets. NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea gave away the game when he told the Financial Times, “NATO is a Good Samaritan but not a refugee organization.”

The contempt of NATO governments for Kosovars is not new. A German court ruled in 1994 that Kosovar Albanians do not face “group persecution,” clearing the way for the government to reject 97.5 percent of all Kosovar requests for asylum in 1997, according to Amnesty International. In the first six months of 1998, German authorities considered 18,310 Kosovar applications for asylum and approved 277 – or 1.5 percent. As of September 1998, Germany – ignoring an appeal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – had deported 12,000 Albanians back to Kosovo.

Now Western authorities say they want to limit the intake of refugees for their own good. “We should not cooperate in any way with ethnic cleansing” by airlifting Kosovars. Yet the fact is that NATO governments are themselves deeply involved in ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

The last round of Western military intervention in the region shows this all too clearly. Operating under the cover of a private “consulting” company, retired U.S. generals and CIA operatives “cooperated” with Croatian Army officials to plan Operation Storm in 1995, which drove more than 150,000 Serb civilians out of their historic homeland in Croatia’s Krajina region. Once NATO troops moved into Bosnia, the U.S. recruited Blijana Plavsic – once an underling of Serbian butcher Radovan Karadsic and a notorious propagandist for ethnic cleansing – as an acceptable face of the so-called Serb Republic in Bosnia.

Now the Western governments and media once again demonize Serbs as ethnic cleansers. But nearly half a million Serbs have been ethnically cleansed themselves as a result of the Balkan wars, in no small measure because of the Western backing of their rivals. Indeed, the 1995 Dayton “peace accord” in Bosnia merely ratified the status quo created by ethnic cleansing – the West hasn’t provided the resources necessary to encourage the return of Croat, Serb and Muslim refugees on any serious scale.

However, Kosovar Albanians weren’t included in the 1995 deal – the U.S. was happy to let them remain under the boot of Serbian authorities. Now the Serbs have unleashed a new round of ethnic cleansing and refugees on a mass scale – and NATO’s war will only make matters worse.

The plight of the refugees is being cynically used to justify military intervention. If the U.S. and other Western powers were really concerned about the the refugees, then they would throw open their borders with no restrictions.

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