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2nd Wave of Refugees Arrive in U.S.

May 8, 1999

FORT DIX, N.J. (AP) _ A second group of Kosovo refugees has arrived in the United States, carrying little more than gruesome memories of their troubled homeland and hopes for safe sanctuary.

A small crowd of military officials and civilians applauded Friday as 407 refugees left a chartered jet and boarded buses for nearby Fort Dix. A young boy smiled broadly and waved, while another in a black bomber jacket stopped to salute.

``It’s a heartbreaking situation when people leave their homes with only the clothes they have on their back,″ said Joseph Rudder, the pilot of the jet. ``It does bring tears to your eyes.″

The United States has agreed to accept up to 20,000 of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in Yugoslavia.

NATO launched air strikes against Yugoslavia on March 24 after President Slobodan Milosevic rejected a plan to end the fighting with the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo.

The first group of 453 refugees arrived Wednesday and were preparing to move into homes of their own. The second group _ 202 adults and 205 children _ brought more stories of terror.

Selim Berisha and 50 others hid for days in his basement as guns were fired on the streets of Pristina. When the shooting ended, they emerged to see a dog eating the body of a neighbor, a translator said.

The group buried the young man in a garden before fleeing into the woods, said Berisha, 63, who used a handkerchief to dab away tears. Berisha and five family members eventually made it to Macedonia.

``He never saw his neighbors again,″ the translator said.

Fadil Krasniqi, 35, hid with 150 neighbors in a house for three days as Serb soldiers went door-to-door. Krasniqi, a taxi driver, said Serbs filled cars with explosives and rolled them down a hill, destroying six houses on his street.

The government is working to find sponsors for the refugees, generally churches and other charities. The sponsors will help them find apartments and jobs, assist with school enrollment and arrange for family members to take English classes.

The government will give $740 to the sponsoring agencies for each refugee, said a State Department spokeswoman. After the first month, the Department of Health and Human Services will provide medical assistance and cash grants similar to state welfare payments.

Medical officials said the refugees appeared healthy.

``We are incredibly surprised how good their health is, considering what they’ve gone through,″ said Dr. Susan Cookson of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Army personnel and volunteers said they have received scores of packages from people donating clothing and other items to the refugees.

``This is America at its best,″ said Col. William Marshall of the New Jersey National Guard. ``You’re seeing a side of Americans we haven’t seen in a long time.″

Despite all they have been through, many refugees don’t like being idle and are eager to work, said Brigadier Gen. Mitchell Zais, commander of a task force overseeing the operation.

``They don’t like the fact that they are forced to accept charity and are unable to reciprocate in any way,″ he said.

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