According to those on the ground in Durres and Thumane, there is lack of organisation regarding the distribution of aid for earthquake victims that in some cases has allegedly resulted in misappropriation.
Last night, a convoy of seven vehicles from the Albanian region of Presheva Valley (Lugina e Presheves) in southern Serbia were turned away from camps in Thumane and Durres, despite bringing much-needed supplies, sources from the convoy that spoke personally to Exit explained.
Upon arriving in Thumane at around 9 pm, those in the convoy told Exit that they were stopped by the State police who told them that they could not enter the area where people were camped out and that they had to leave all of their supplies at a depository run by the Municipality of Kruje.
They were unhappy to do this and were unable to even see or speak to those affected by the earthquake which resulted in hesitance to leave the supplies there. Other sources confirmed that journalists had been denied entry to the camp at Thumane and were being stopped from filming or speaking to those inside.
The convoy carried on to Durres and tried to call the Director of Civil Emergency, Artur Lekbello to ask where they could deliver the aid. He told them “I don’t want to talk on the phone any more” and cut the line without providing any information to them on where they should go or how they could unload the supplies they had brought.
Those in the convoy told Exit that they then tried to deliver the items to several points in Durres, but were refused each time, and told that they could leave the items in the State depository. Again, they were not allowed into the camps.
“I saw packages being handed to people who did not appear to be those affected by the earthquake,” one Albanian man in the convoy told Exit.
A member of the convoy from Lugina e Presheves added: “one coordinator told us that some of those working for the state were picking through donations and selling some items such as blankets and coats.”
These claims were echoed by journalist Blendi Fevziu who gave a statement on his TV show “Opinion” that cases of aid being sold in Durres had been reported – blankets being sold for 5000 lek each.
While the state was turning people away by saying they were full, or that items had to be left with the Municipality or state-controlled depositories, Exit was receiving messages from those inside the camps saying that people needed blankets, umbrellas, and food.
“We drove for hours and have spent hours waiting and driving from place to place. These are donations from the people of our area and we are just being turned away or asked to leave them in a way we don’t trust. All we want is to help,” one man told Exit.
“There is just no organisation, they don’t have a clue what they are doing- no one knows anything,” the other said, referring to those working for the state.
Concerns have been raised that the authorities do not have the capacity or experience to deal with such a situation and that volunteers are overwhelmed.
The Prime Minister Edi Rama has said on Facebook “do not send food and drugs” to Durres as “the need has been met and overcome” and there is no more space to store things. Instead, he asked people to deposit money into a government bank account (see here or here) to help with aid efforts.
The prime minister also added that reported cases of misappropriation of aid where minor and irrelevant.
“NO AID WAS STOLEN OR SOLD at any level that could cause concern, but we’re talking here about episodes that are completely irrelevant considering their extent, or about posts by heartless provocateurs, in this RIVER OR DONATIONS of this fantastic solidarity”
At the time Rama made his statement, Exit received communications from a doctor and a journalist on the ground in Durres, requesting blankets and items for babies.
A consultant with the World Health Organisation and a doctor on site told Exit: “I am at the emergency and people need stuff like blankets and things for babies. Take them to Niko Dovana stadium, in front of it is a high school.” They thanked in advance for anyone who could bring these items that are needed.
The following video footage shows the convoy from the Presheva Valley in Serbia, inhabited by an Albanian majority, trying to deliver aid first in Thumane and then Durres, Albania on 27 November. They were joined by other vehicles from Kosovo and those in the convoy told Exit that there were other vehicles trying to drop off aid at various locations at the same time.
UPDATE 3: 29/11 11:46
Two police officers and a firefighter have been arrested under suspicion of misappropriation of aid donated to survivors.
Also, an actor and member of the Alliance For The Protection of the National Theatre Neritan Licaj has said that police are blocking the distribution of aid. Licaj who is involved in a civil society organisation and distribution of donated supplies told Ora News that police are blocking volunteers from giving aid to citizens and telling them to leave it in warehouses that they designate. He added that the Alliance have sent aid to “Durres and Thumana for the first two days, then Lezha, Fushe Kruja, Ishem, Sukth, Manze, Lac, Mamurraz, Fushe Mamurras, Peza, Preza, Marikaj, Kinostudio.”