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Refugee graduates roll up their sleeves

KOSOVO CRISIS

It is easy to identify with many of the refugees who have been forced to flee Kosovo.

Kastriot Baruti and Fisnik Vejsa are both bright mid-twenties graduates who have taken jobs at the Hamallaj refugee camp to help set up the water supply. Neither have experience of water engineering but both have thrown themselves into the task to take their minds off the tragedy at home.

Baruti, an architect, monitors the portable reverse osmosis plant used to purify water for half the camp. He left Kosovo after his home in Gjakove was burned by Serb forces - whom he claims were high on drugs at the time.

'Life is very sad,' he says as the first refugees arrive on the camp. Though good-humoured and enjoying his new job, the reminder of the upheaval in his country brings back his passion. 'If we had more arms I would join the Kosovo Liberation Army and go back home now.'

Vejsa, a 26-year-old vet, is just as keen to go home. He left his home town of Prizren 10 days after the bombing began and recalls the sound of the American Tomahawk cruise missiles smashing into targets outside the town. 'It was pretty terrifying. I didn't want to leave but I thought we had no choice,' he says.

After walking the 20km through the mountains to the Albanian border with his fiancee and grandparents, Vejsa is now staying with friends in Tirana. Despite his biological rather than engineering training he managed to get a job helping Oxfam staff with the installation of water distribution pipes.

'They joke that it is just the same as operating on a cow's intestines,' he says.

The rest of Vejsa's family chose to stay in Kosovo, despite having to live without electricity. His 11-year-old brother is an ardent Manchester United fan but he has no idea if he has heard of the team's wins in the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup. 'I still haven't had a chance to talk to him,' he says.

Vejsa is popular with all the Oxfam engineers and with his perfect English it is clear he would have no problems getting a job in the UK. But he says there is no way he would move abroad for good. Instead he promises to take them all skiing in Kosovo once the conflict is over.

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