HeadLine: YOUR AID IS ON THE WAY TO VICTIMS
Daily Record, 09/04/1999, p6&7
by Shaun Milne on the relief convoy
THE AID collected by Daily Record readers for the Kosovo refugees was finally heading for the front line last night.
And it was hoped the medical supplies in the 30-ton consignment would be in use this morning.
The massive consignment of medical aid, food and clothes for the thousands of refugees took from Glasgow Airport yesterday morning.
Its ultimate destination was the Macedonian capital of Skopje.
But only superhuman efforts and masses of goodwill at every stage got the vital supplies through.
The Record was on board the relief plane’s flight to Thessaloniki Airport in northern Greece – to show the readers who did so much to collect the aid that it would help the people whose plight had touched their hearts.
At Thessaloniki, the supplies were hastily loaded on to a convoy of three articulated lorries for the four-hour journey to Skopje, which is expected to begin before dawn.
The convoy’s story began with the extraordinary response to the Daily Record Kosovo Appeal supported by organisations including Kwik-Fit and TNT News
Fast, all backing the superb effort co-ordinated by Scottish Charities.
Virgin Airlines stepped in at the 11th hour yesterday after a promised plane from another operator failed to materialise when it suffered technical problems.
Virgin boss Richard Branson responded to a plea from Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths to help and despatched a huge A340 air bus.
It arrived in Glasgow on Wednesday evening, sparking a flurry of activity on the ground.
It was supposed to land at Edinburgh Airport but they did not have suitable X-ray equipment to handle such a vast load without breaching security regulations.
So a series of frantic calls managed to save the day when Glasgow Airport agreed to help, allowing the plane to land while waiving the normal official fees.
That still meant Scottish Charities had to truck the aid along the M8 to Glasgow from Edinburgh before it could be loaded.
It finally arrived at 11pm on Wednesday but had to be taken off the trucks and packed on to proper pallets by a team of five cargo operators, supplied by Virgin, who worked through the night to get the job done.
Cargo officer Alan Brookes, 40, said: “Two 40-foot lorries turned up and we just go stuck in but there was so much stuff we had to turn a third lorry away.
“We worked for five hours solid, not finishing until after 4 am then had to find ourselves somewhere to kip.
“The flight crew were in a hotel nearby, but because it was late we had to sleep on the plane.
“There was no power, which meant there were lights and no heating but it was the only thing we could do to make sure the aid got to the people who need it.”
Not only did Virgin pick up the bill for the flight, the men from the cargo crew, along with the rest of the staff aboard the plane, gave up their holidays to volunteer to fly to Greece.
They had just two hours to scramble from their homes in and around London to reach Heathrow in order to catch the flight north.
The volunteers were among just 25 people aboard when the plane flew out yesterday.
The others included the Record team, MP Nigel Griffiths and two Kwik-Fit representatives, along with volunteers from Scottish Charities.
Avionics engineer Doug Graham, 56, originally from Cathcart in Glasgow, gave up his holidays to assist with the mercy dash.
He said: “They asked for volunteers so I said, yes, no problem. It’s for a worthy cause and with the Scottish connection, I could see no reason not to help.
“Basically, I’m the flying spanner. Anything goes wrong out there, and I fix it.”
The plane and its precious cargo, including tins of meat, family packs and, most valuable of all, medical supplies, touched down in the Greek heat shortly after 3.30 pm UK time.
The cargo crew had a window of two hours to unload. Normally, it would take four. They worked full tilt and managed it in 40 minutes.
From there, it was taken to three waiting trucks and loaded by hand and forklift by volunteers before getting on its way towards Skopje.
It was a mammoth effort in the glare of the sun, but there was a sense of relief from all those involved that at last they could do something tangible to help.
Stephanie Wolfe Murray, Director of Charity Connect Humanitarian Aid, is helping to co-ordinate the relief effort. She said it was essential to overcome obstacles so that the supplies could get through.
She added: “It’s absolutely vital. Hopefully, we’ll start getting the first medical supplies out soon. It’s obvious now that what is in such scarce supply are the likes of trauma packs and mobile life-support machines.
“We have the supplies in terms of food and clothing that we need. We may ask for more later but what we need more than anything is money.
“With money, we can buy some more of these things here on the ground in Skopje without having to transport them from Britain or elsewhere. Here, we can help people instantly.”
Last night, arrangements were being made to hand out medical supplies to doctors at the International Medical Corps in Macedonia.
The rest will be stored in a secure warehouse they own in Skopje itself.
Stephanie said: “I’m sure people here will appreciate it, knowing there is a whole country – Scotland – willing to come here with food and supplies, people who want to help their European neighbours.
“People at their wits’ end – and they are – take renewed hope, knowing they are not forgotten. Even saying hello to them as you pass helps lift the spirits
because it lets them know you can see them and care enough just to make contact.”
The medical corps have 14 doctors based at two offices, one in Macedonia, the other in Albania.
Their delight on seeing fresh supplies arrive is indescribable. It gives them the tools to save lives which may have been lost.
Scottish charities are now planning to make their presence felt in Skopje, establishing a bank account in the city and gathering intelligence on where their help is needed most.
Stephanie said: “There are major players here doing a very good job. But we can play just as vital a part, helping people one to one, which is something larger charities are unable to do.
“The aid from Scotland will be used in that way, getting to those who need it instantly, because we can seek them out. They don’t need to come to us.
“This is proof, if the Scottish people who have given help needed it, that we can change people’s lives quickly.”
Kwik-Fit, who have done so much to help collect the aid from Record readers, have two people on the ground. Doug Shearer and Lynne Robertson have
travelled from Edinburgh to see how it will help refugees.
Doug said: “We want to make sure those back home, who have helped, know how the aid is being used.
“We want to see how it is distributed to the people and how the money is being spent.
“That way, if anything should be done that we’re not doing now, we can get in touch with people back in Scotland and tell them to concentrate on that.”
That theme was echoed by Nigel Griffiths, who has come to the sharp end to see what else Britain can do as a nation.
He said: “When you hear, even as we were flying, of refugees being moved from one place to another, you know instantly that some will already be exhausted and in dire need of our help
“It is vital that we get aid to them now, especially the family packs containing food, warm clothing and even simple things like a soft toy to help comfort the children of Kosovo.
“We are here to see the aid gets where it is needed.
“If it does not, we will endeavour to correct matters by letting Daily Record readers know how else they can help.”
Today, assessment of the heartbreaking situation in Skopje continues.
Work will be done to make sure the food, the clothing and the medicines are handed out to those capable of taking them to the starving, the dying, the displaced.
Thereafter, attention will turn to Sunday and Albania, where a huge Russian Ilyshin plane will land at Tirana Airport, bringing an even bigger consignment of relief.
But today, Daily Record readers managed to bring a ray of hope to the desperate people of Kosovo.THE Scottish business world has joined the massive public effort.
The lorry used to transport all the goods to central warehouses has been donated by Kenning Van Hire.
Along with a transit van, it will pick up the aid from wherever it is offered.
Quaker have made a donation of 300 cases of their famous Scots porridge which will feed thousands of refugees.
Rangers Football Club have opened up their superstore at their ground in Ibrox, Glasgow, to accept supplies over the next two weeks.
Other companies rallying round with donations and help include Blacks Leisure, Mackays, Wiseman Dairies and Crockets.
Hollywood legend Paul Newman has handed over £180,000 to help Kosovo refugees, and Oscar-winner Robert Benigni is helping to bankroll a shelter for fleeing Albanians in the south-eastern Italian town of Bari.
Thousands of House of Commons phones destined to be scrapped will be given to charity to raise money for refugees. Every phone is being upgraded and the old ones will be sold to raise cash for the Kosovo Crisis Appeal.