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Sites for new refugee camps are hard to come by in Albania. Nato and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' policy is to move refugees away from the border with Kosovo as they consider the risk of incursions or shelling by the Serb forces is still high.

But Albanian engineer Romeo Eftimi says that as many Albanians are reluctant to give up their land, and ownership rights are difficult to establish, planning new camps is difficult.

'For 50 years under communist rule we had no land and there was no documentation,' he explains. 'Now many people are declaring that they are owners of the same piece of land and everybody is afraid to give it up.'

The result is that most of the camps, Hamallaj included, are having to be located on unproductive land on Albania's low-lying coastal strip or close to old factories. Many of these sites are unsuitable for housing large populations.

'Some of the old factory sites contain old ordnance which could still be live, or have contaminated land,' says Oxfam's water and sanitation team leader Nick Willson. 'One camp that we know of is being constructed just 900m from a pesticide factory which operated for 40 years.'

Other camps are only just above sea level and have very high water tables. In summer they are well drained by ditches but may have problems with toxic blue-green algae blooms. In winter they are likely to be marshy and prone to flooding.

Such camps also have particular sanitation problems. Standing water provides a good breeding ground for mosquitoes and water-borne diseases. Latrines have to be sealed to prevent waste from leaching into the groundwater.

'In one camp we are having to build pit latrines from galvanised iron tanks surrounded by mass concrete because the environment is so aggressive,' says Willson.

In all of the camps UNHCR, Nato and the non-governmental organisations attempt to work to the Sphere Project Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. This gives the basic guidelines on how to set up and run camps which protect the health of refugees.

But the land rights issue means some aid agencies are struggling even to meet the minimum spatial standard. This recommends at least 30m2 per refugee.

'There are often more people in the camps than we would like but at least people are stabilised, so we can continue searching for more sites,' says Willson.

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