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All Africa Unite

Refugee Skin Color Makes a Difference
By Emory Curtis

The difference between the treatment and concern for Kosovo refugees and African refugees should make you ask yourself whether our government leaders really believe skin color isn't driving our foreign policy in the Balkans?

If you listen to President Clinton's mouth, major talking heads on TV as well as the commentary writers for leading daily newspapers, you would believe the refugee situation in Kosovo is the worst the world has seen, at least since World War II.

The truth is the Kosovo refugee situation is not even close to today's worst refugee situation. A little over a week ago the Los Angeles Times used a full page to compare the Kosovo refugees with African refugees.

It was an eye opener. Just look at some of the differences.

Macedonia has the largest camp of Kosovo refugees. It holds about 33,000 people. Comparable camps in Africa hold about 500,000.

The U. N. Refugee agency spends about $1.23 per day for a Kosovo refugee and about 11 cents per day for an African refugee. Even though there is a vast difference in the number of refugees from Kosovo and the refugees in the African Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania & Uganda), the fund raising goals for each region is about the same, about $98 million.

That's the funding goals, not what they are actually raising. So far, for the African Great Lakes region they have reached 22% of the $98 million goal. Kosovo's goal looks reachable; they've already collected 70% and more is coming in.

The daily ration for each set of refugees gets about the same, in terms of calories, about 2,100. The difference is in the delivery. In Africa, they get some wheat and sorghum grains in a bag or a pan. In the Balkans they get tins of chicken pate, foil wrapped cheeses, fresh oranges and milk. In their ready-made meals there may be coffee and fruit tarts. Ready-made meals are non-existent in Africa.

For medical attention, the difference is even greater. In Africa about 6,000 refugees die each day from cholera, starvation and other public health related diseases. So far, in the Balkans, not a single refugee has suffered that fate.

Some of the refugee camps in Africa have about one doctor per 100,000 refugees. That's equivalent to 7 or 8 doctors for a population the size of San Francisco.

In the Balkans, the Kosovo refugee camps have about one doctor for each 700 refugees. That's greater than the doctor to population ratio in the Bayview-Hunters Point district of San Francisco and similar districts in other urban areas.

According to reports, medical service delivery is HMO-like. There are groups of doctors serving as primary-care doctors who examine patients and then send them to specialist clinics that offer sites for dentistry, minor surgery and gynecology. Just like the Kaiser system and other HMOs here.

Many refugee aid workers in the Balkans were drawn from refugee aid camps in Africa. The difference in treatment stunned some of them. For instance, one ex-African aid workers got an urgent request from a medical team for a special diet for a diabetic.

That request floored her; she was even more stunned when she was able to fulfill the request. She said, "In Africa, we don't have special food or diets. There are no diabetics in the camps, they just die."

As for shelter and the general camp situation, the Kosovo refugee aid workers from Africa are stunned at the differences. One refugee ex-Rwanda worker was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying, "Compared to the refugee camps in Africa, Stankovac (a Balkan refugee camp) is a five-star hotel."

At that camp of about 21,000 refugees there are plans for hot showers, communal kitchens, and street lighting. The Balkan camps have mobile phones for refugees, soccer fields, basketball courts and ping-pong tables.

In Africa, most of the 300,000 Eritreans kicked out of Ethiopia back into Eritrea in February live under trees, in riverbeds or simply on the roadside without any shelter. In that semi-arid area it gets blazing hot during the day and freezing cold at night. They have about 1,200 tents for 16,000 families.

Why all of this difference in concern and treatment of poor souls who were driven from their homes in Africa and in Europe? I know it's so obvious it shouldn't be asked.

The Balkan refugees are white and the African refugees are black. That‘s why the difference between the treatment is as different as black and white.

Refugee aid comes mainly from European countries and the United States, where whites are in control. That's why your TV has some pictures or stand-up reports on the Kosovo refugee problems almost every day.

Because the audiences see people of their own skin color, they sympathize with refugees trudging along with clothes on their backs and babies in blankets going into a refugee camp. That picture opens white checkbooks.

In Africa, some incoming refugees arrive without one thread of clothes on them or one rice grain in their hand. That TV picture gets no sympathetic response from white audiences here or in Europe. The reaction is not an open checkbook but a quick finger on the remote.

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