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May 5, 1999

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May 5, 1999

"I'm writing because the faces on the news of the frightened children fleeing the war in Kosovo are haunting," begins a letter to the White House from Port Jervis, N.Y. "Our country MUST help these people, and soon."

Here are some of the other letters the President and I have received about the refugees from Kosovo:

A woman in Pleasanton, Calif., wrote: "Can you tell me what it takes for a community (like my church) to sponsor a family from Kosovo? I can only imagine what it must be like for a family with nothing left, in the cold, hungry and forced to go to a country where they are unfamiliar with the culture and have no human ties. We can make it better for at least one family."

This from Sandy, Utah: "We have two extra bedrooms in our home and are willing to help house a refugee family. We support what you are doing and want to help in any way we can."

And finally, one from San Diego: "On behalf of my family, I would like to extend an invitation to host a family from Kosovo. We have been watching the news almost around the clock and feel compelled to help in some capacity. Macedonia has been sending refugees to homes inside their country, and we would like to provide the same. We believe that humanitarian efforts must start with the individual. We are hoping that other households will help in the same manner."

These letters represent just a fraction of the outpouring of support for the refugees that has come to the White House, and they remind me of one reason I'm proud to be an American: Whenever and wherever people are in need, Americans stand ready to help.

This week, I traveled to Fort Dix in New Jersey, to represent the President and the people of the United States in welcoming the first group of Kosovar refugees from Macedonia arriving in our country. Like hundreds of thousands of others, they've witnessed appalling atrocities.

In Djakovica, in Kosovo, 19 people -- members of three families -- who were hiding in the basement of a house were discovered by Serbian authorities. All were shot, and the house was burned. Bodies littered the streets of Meja, where the killing of scores of men was reported several days ago. One woman said, "I have seen so much horror, I just close my eyes."

Everywhere, refugees search for lost loved ones. One desperate, young couple frantically sought news of their 17-day-old infant, left behind in the intensive care unit of a local hospital when Serb forces drove them from their home. The plight of a 10-year-old girl, who is caring for her infant brother while authorities try to locate their parents, is not unusual.

In one 24-hour period earlier this week, more than 11,600 Kosovars arrived in Macedonia, bringing to nearly 700,000 the number of refugees and displaced persons who have fled the terror that Slobodan Milosevic and his regime have inflicted on the ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo. The burden on the refugee camps in the area is overwhelming, and many countries have responded by agreeing to house those who are most vulnerable or have family members to welcome them.

Some of those coming to the United States have relatives anxiously awaiting their arrival. Families, churches and agencies around the country will sponsor housing for others. Literally tens of thousands of Americans have offered help of some kind. Here's what you can do:

Because of the cost of transporting, storing and distributing unsolicited goods, clothing and services, relief agencies prefer monetary donations. For a list of those accepting contributions, you can call this toll-free number: 1-800-USAID-RELIEF (1-800-872-4373). Since this hot line was set up on April 6, operators have fielded 43,631 calls. You can also get the list at this web site: www.interaction.org.

If you have relatives in the camps in Albania and Macedonia and you want to bring them to this country -- or for information about local refugee resettlement agencies in your area -- you can call this toll-free number: 1-800-727-4420 or e-mail kosovo@interaction.org.

Every offer of help is an offer of hope. The people of America are sending the people of Kosovo a very strong message: You are not abandoned. You are not forgotten. Slobodan Milosevic has not succeeded in erasing your identity from the pages of history, and he will not succeed in erasing your presence from the land of your parents and grandparents.

We can provide temporary help, but we know that what the refugees want and need most is to be able to return to their homeland. That goal is the reason the United States and its NATO allies remain committed to the mission they have undertaken.


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Talking It Over: 1999

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January 27, 1999

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