Kosovar students pin hopes on return to classes

June 4, 1999

Many of the 714,000 or so refugees who have spilled out of Kosovo into neighbouring Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia are academics or students.

No one knows how many, but in Macedonia the student union at the University of Tetovo is trying to identify students and their needs among the 110,000 refugees in camps and the 109,000 registered with host families.

The information the union assembles will be invaluable in negotiations that could eventually enable Kosovar students to pick up their studies at Tetovo.

Milaim Feiziu, president of the university senate, says he has begun talks with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Macedonia's social services ministry to enable daytime classes for the Kosovar students. They would pay no fees but would have to return to their camps each evening.

But with the semester now over, the Kosovar students will not be able to resume their studies until the autumn.

Living conditions for those in the camps are bleak and many find that the traumas they have experienced make it hard to concentrate on other things.

Diar Sinani, a 23-year-old computer studies and English student, is now a refugee in Neprosten camp near Tetovo, where he works as a manager of food


During his third year at Pristina, he ran out of money and returned to his home town of Glogovac in December, starting work as an interpreter with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. He expected to return to university in the autumn. But in March, five days before the Nato airstrikes began, OSCE pulled out of town.

The next day the Yugoslav army began to attack villages around Glogovac, and then the Serbs began burning Albanian shops. Sinani and his family fled in the early hours a week was later when the house next door was set on fire.

Sinani left all his academic diplomas behind, taking just Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julia (New Heloise). "The next day, from my aunt's house nearby, we watched the police loot our house and then burn it down. We lived at our aunt's house for a month without being able to get any food supplies. Every day we ate soup. I had to stay inside all the time because I had worked for OSCE. I knew they could come and demand money, or kill me. I read 200 pages of the book, then I couldn't concentrate any more."

Then he was discovered by

paramilitaries, and was marched around the house with a gun thrust in his back.

Two days later, the family left Kosovo, saved by the money from Sinani's OSCE job. Forced on to a bus by Serb police, he was able to buy the DM50 (Pounds 18) tickets demanded for each member of his family for safe passage into Macedonia.

"I don't know what has happened to my friends left in Kosovo. But my best friend, a drama student, came to visit me here and we had a good cry together. His father and uncle were killed, his house burned down. My other ex-room mate, a pharmacy student, lost his father and uncle."

The camp feels like prison, he continued. "I have only been able to leave the camp once for a private visit to Tetovo. We are just

sitting just like parasites, waiting for news of relatives in Kosovo,

waiting for aid to arrive, waiting to see if we can go abroad. It is

a very monotonous life."

Fahrija Pllana, a student at Pristina University, who fled her burning village at the end of April, says: "I'm very tired and I can't really concentrate, but I have found a book on Roman law and two of my student friends test me on it under a tree in the camp. It's very difficult here as there is no privacy. But now I want to be a lawyer even more. I intend to register at Tetovo to study. One day I would like to be a judge."

Many of Kosovo's intellectuals have managed to avoid the grim existence of the camps and used connections to find host families.

Mimoza Krasniqi*, a lecturer from Pristina's technical faculty staying in a town south west of Skopje, spoke of the shock of her sudden and brutal exile.

"When we left the faculty, we left normally, as if for a holiday. We thought the airstrikes would be for three or four days and we told the students we would suspend lectures for up to ten days. But after Serbian paramilitaries came to our house we had to leave. The Serbs took our car from us and we were crammed on to the train to Blace like animals. We felt we were in the film, Schindler's List."

Her colleague, Astrit Berisha*, said that "for a long time I have felt empty, I can't read or write. I'm trying to read an English grammar. We are paralysed. We want to go back to Kosovo as soon as possible, no matter if our home and the university buildings are destroyed. Meanwhile, we would like to teach at Tetovo. It doesn't have an electrical engineering faculty but maybe we could teach computer science."

* Names have been changed at their request. Some of their colleagues are still unaccounted for. Ilir Limani, interviewed by The THES in Pristina (March 1999) is confirmed safe in Macedonia.

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