Jewish groups mobilize to aid Kosovar refugees

NEW YORK, April 6 (JTA) — Jewish groups are taking an active role in aiding the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war-torn province of Kosovo. The Albanian ambassador to the United Nations, Agim Nesho, met this week with officials from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to thank them for the efforts of the Jewish community in helping the more than 200,000 Kosovar refugees who are currently in Albania. Tens of thousands more have crossed into Macedonia, and the numbers are growing each day. As in past crises, several Jewish organizations are collecting donations, and hundreds of contributions have already poured into the JDC’s offices in New York to help with the shelter, medical, food and clothing needs of the refugees, according to Steven Schwager, the group’s associate executive vice president. As of Monday, some 650 donations totaling more than $78,000 had been received by the JDC, an “unprecedented” response in such a short time, according to JDC officials. Israelis, too, are contributing humanitarian aid. A first wave of Israeli planes carrying food, tents, equipment for a field hospital and medical staff arrived in Macedonia and Albania on Tuesday to provide support for the refugees. The field hospital, organized by the Israeli government, was to be established in Macedonia, several miles from Kosovo, where British and Canadian aid delegations were already working. The Jewish Agency for Israel, which is spearheading the humanitarian effort among Israelis, expected to collect and airlift 43 tons of equipment and food by the end of the week. Officials from the Jewish Agency flew to Albania to oversee the distribution of aid there. Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee has contributed $25,000 to the relief effort for the refugees as an initial donation. “We cannot stand silently while a human tragedy unfolds in Kosovo,” said AJCommittee President Bruce Kramer. Jewish leaders are showing their support for the Kosovo refugees in non- monetary ways as well. The World ORT Union recently met with some 20 non-governmental organizations in Albania. At the meeting, a group of human rights representatives and lawyers was established to interview Kosovar refugees now in Albania in order to document human rights violations that occurred before they fled their home province. And when the national director of the Anti-Defamation League was asked to speak at an Albanian-sponsored rally last week opposing the Serbian policy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Abraham Foxman was more than happy to accept. “As Jews, we certainly understand ethnic cleansing and hate crimes,” said Foxman. “And as complicated as the history is, one of the lessons of our history is not to be silent in the face of hatred.” About 300 people took part in the Albanian American Civic League-sponsored rally March 31 in front of the United Nations in New York. It is unclear how many Jews attended. Martin Bresler, president of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Center on American Pluralism, also spoke at the rally. Jewish organizations collecting money for the refugees include: * The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee at JDC Kosovo Mailbox, 711 Third Ave., 10th Floor, New York, N.Y., 10017; * The American Jewish World Service, Kosovar Relief Effort, 989 Avenue of the Americas, 10th Floor, New York, N.Y., 10018; * B’nai B’rith International, Humanitarian Relief Fund, 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; and * UJA Federations of North America, c/o Kosovo Refugee Fund, 111 Eighth Ave., Suite 11E, New York, N.Y., 10011. In addition, some local federations are collecting money. Notes should be made on all checks that they are for Kosovo refugees, and checks to the UJA fund should be made out to the CJF Disaster Relief Fund.

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