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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Overcrowded Refugee Camps in Albania May Close or Move




KUKES, Albania -- A day after thousands of new refugees who spoke of new atrocities crossed into Albania, a UN refugee agency official said Wednesday refugee camps in and around the border town of Kukes may be closed or moved.


Ray Wilkinson, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said talks with Albanian officials have started on possibly shutting down camps providing shelter to about 30,000 people.


"It's still an idea," Wilkinson told a news briefing.


The issue involves security in the tense area near the Kosovo border and the meager resources of an underdeveloped region in Europe's poorest country.


More than 7,000 Kosovo refugees crossed the border near Kukes Tuesday, further crowding the tent camps on the outskirts of town. The population of Kukes was less than 30,000 before the refugee crisis began in March. Officials estimate more than 100,000 refugees now are living in local housing, in fields and other open areas, or in the camps.


Local officials from Kukes and relief agencies fear an escalation of border violence, such as Serbian shelling, which could cause many casualties in refugee camps and general pandemonium in the overcrowded town. City officials also say services such as the water supply will be overtaxed in coming months if the large number of refugees remain.


Wilkinson said it would take at least two to three weeks shut down the refugee camps or move them further from the border region. He said the Albanian government was pushing to move the refugees from the border area, but insisted that was UNHCR policy.


Wilkinson said the UNHCR and city officials are trying to persuade refugees in the Kukes area that they must move further south. He said most objections to moving come from those waiting for relatives from Kosovo or who simply don't want to travel again.


Refugees arriving from Kosovo Tuesday told of a new wave of killings, robbery and men being separated from women and children in recent days.


Some spoke of scores of killings Sunday in Studime outside Vucitrn, 30 kilometers from Pristina, Kosovo's capital.