The interviewer: It’s fine. Continue from where you left; when the military came and blocked one side of the city of Mitrovica and how you had to leave.
Asllan Haliti: They did block the road, especially the one “Kodra e Bajrit” – the road that takes you to Vaganica and Vernica – it’s over that place. When there were attacks in the city people usually ran away in that direction, especially the neighborhood of Vaganica and Shqipol, they would always run into that direction. They first blocked that side of the road. On the following day, they started to burn down parts of the city close to the village of Vidimriq. I remember it because we left for Vinarc that night since we considered it as a safer place. Shqipol neighborhood was no longer considered as a safe zone. We went to Vinarc at my aunt’s and stayed the night. Then, on the following day, the village of Vidimriq, located over Vinarc and Gushac, was burnt. It was a warning, in fact. Their intention was to move the population upwards. I wasn’t in the city back then, but they claim that it all started from the neighborhood of Bosnians. They first wanted to move the citizens to escape from the center of the city to Shqipol and then in the direction of Luzhdez. Then, we went back home from Venarc. When we got there, suddenly, the long lines of people escaping reached to the city and the road was crowded. You have no idea how many people there were. There was a group in the center of the city led by the paramilitaries. In fact, the paramilitaries led the whole group in order to let them know in which direction to go – in the direction of Skenderaj and Peja. When we arrived there then we got part of the long line, too. Fortunately, we had our own truck so that the whole family could get in the truck. But, my two brothers arrived on that first day when the city got blocked; they left before the military blocked the road and left to Vernica. We lost touch with them and we didn’t know anything about them. They were staying in a different house – we were afraid to stay close to the roads. So they had left. When we saw the long line of people leaving the country we know their intention was to move us towards Albania. So, we got on our truck. The truck was full of people since some other people came to ask us whether they could also get on our truck with us. We were at the beginning of that long line. There were some tractors ahead of us. There were mainly small vehicles since the trucks were taken from us. All of them.
The interviewer: Before the war?
Asllan Haliti: No, it happened during the war. They took my neighbor’s truck, which was in his storehouse, during the night and moved it away. The same happened with someone else. So, we hid our truck as it was smaller. We hid it so when the time came we set off to Albania with it.
The interviewer: How many people were you in that truck?
Asllan Haliti: In our truck?
The interviewer: Approximately.
Asllan Haliti: Yes, yes… well, only from our family, and our close neighbor, we were around 20 because my big sister and her children were also with us. So, we were 20 family members. Then, other families also came with us. A family that came from the city had the same number of family members. So, we were around 40 people in that truck and so they had to open the casement of the windows.
Another person: We were 52 in total, it was also news on TV after we arrived there.
Asllan Haliti: It could be because… we travelled to Albania in such conditions and we couldn’t even move because it was too crowded. The casements of the truck bulged. But, we couldn’t leave those people behind and we got as many as we could. The truck was full; you wouldn’t be able to make room for one more person if you wanted to.
The interviewer: Did the paramilitaries stop you along the road?
Asllan Haliti: We set off without any information or idea where we were heading to, we just escaped along with the crowd. But, the paramilitaries were ahead of us on both sides of the road. Sometimes they would stop the crowd and would block one lane of the road and let the other one move; that’s how it functioned. They also maltreated us and sometimes they fired straight up into the air and we still had to move on. We were stopped in Vroboniq or I guess it is called Vojtesh. They opened our truck and asked my father…
The interviewer: Vroboniq?
Asllan Haliti: In the village of Vroboniq is in the direction of Peja. They stopped us there and open our truck’s charade. They were all paramilitaries and they were masked – they weren’t a regular military. They told us that we were too many in the truck and told us to pay 200 bucks to be able to pass. We gave them the money and passed. That was the first time they stopped us. We continued the road to Runike and arrived at Gjerakovce. They didn’t stop us anywhere until we arrived there in Gjerakovce. It was debatable whether we had to take the road to Kilna e Begut or to Peja. We were stopped until they made a decision. Then, we were told to take the road to Klina e Begut. It got dark before we arrived there. They stopped us at a place for an hour in that long line. We had no idea what was going on. They told us to turn the lights off. So, we stayed there. After an hour or an hour and a half, we continued the road to Gjakova. We were at the beginning of the line so we had to go then from Gjakova to Prizren. So, we arrived at 7 in the morning at the Albanian border. When we arrived there they asked for our documentation and everything we had; the IDs and stuff. One of those paramilitaries was there. They wanted to take our truck. They told us to get out of the truck and got there on foot. My father told them he wouldn’t give them the truck because we had already left enough in Kosovo. Also, he told them his mother, my grandmother, was sick and if we left the truck there she wouldn’t be able to walk. One of them, of a higher rank, lingered to see my grandmother and told them to let us go. We were right at the border. They opened the ramp and we passed the border. Then, from there we went to Kukes. We stayed there for a while and then they took us to Tirana. We stayed in Tirana for 2 and a half months. We took shelter at e house offered by UNHCR – it was the place of the leader of the department whom we met in the Sports Center. All the refugees from Kosovo first stopped at the Sports Center. They provided us with food there and you could take also take shelter there. Then, they would take you to private houses in different cities. 1500 to 4000 people arrived there within 24 hours. But, they would then move from there to different cities.
We stayed there for 5 nights. They gave us the opportunity to go to a house since we were too many family members. My whole family, my big sister and her children… we were 14… but then my wife’s family was there, we met them in Tirana. So, we all got together. I believe we were 22 family members all there. We stayed there for 2 and a half months. There were 3 rooms in the house and the house was located in the center of Tirana. The conditions were fine. We were provided with food – 3 meals a day – which were prepared by the Humanitarian Organization of Netherlands. I am not sure about the name of the organization I guess that’s the one.
The interviewer: How did you then get informed about your brothers?
Asllan Haliti: First, we knew nothing about my brothers, until we arrived home. For 2 and a half months we didn’t have any information about them. When we returned home, after the Komanovo Agreement, we found them there. They were caught in Tavnike along with a bit group of citizens of Mitrovica. They took them to the prison of Smrekovnica. They kept us there for about 2 weeks or 20 days. They were lucky enough to be part of the last group of citizens so they were not taken to Serbia, they only let us go after the Kumanovo Agreement. So, they were part of the last group. The first groups that were in the prison of Smrekovnica were extremely maltreated. They’re the ones who could speak about these difficult times. We had the chance to talk to some of those who were maltreated in the prison and then left to Albania. But, the final group whom they caught, as much as we are concerned, especially after the Kumanovo Agreement, was taken to Serbia. They were lucky enough to be let free. When we arrived home… they were also maltreated but they mainly suffered for food. They had lost weight to the point we didn’t recognize them. So, the first time we saw them after when we got separated was when we returned home from Albania.
The interviewer: Was the house burnt?
Asllan Haliti: The house was half burnt. They attempted to burn the house but fortunately, only one room and the roof were burnt. The fire had gone out by itself because of the lack of oxygen since the windows were all closed. The house was all in soot, it was all black. We washed the whole house with sponges and brushes to make it a habited place when we returned. We slept outside for 3 or 4 days until we cleaned the house. We couldn’t sleep in the house also because of the smell. The odor of the burnt house and the clothes made it impossible to stay there. This is how it was.
The interviewer: Did you have a tent when you slept outside?
Asllan Haliti: Well, we were lucky enough to have a premise; we had had a shop so some of us slept in that space and some of us slept outside since it was summer. The weather was warm so we could stay outside. However, we were in our own yard and it was no longer dangerous to stay there… it wasn’t a problem.
The interviewer: Thank you very much.