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Medical care for refugees in Blagaj

By Cpl. Nicolas Marut
First published in
SFOR Informer #88, May 24, 2000

Blagaj - It may be thought typical protocol that SFOR initiatives, designed to help the local population, originate from the highest levels of headquarters on down. But last February, a group of military police, assigned to the Mostar-Ortijes camp in MND-SW, set out to make their own mark on the community, from the bottom up.

On a routine patrol by the Multinational Company of Military Police (A division consisting of two French, one Italian and one Spanish platoon) the Blagaj Refugee Camp had the luck of being visited by the local unit of MPs. The camp shelters 78 people, mostly Muslims who originally resided in the towns of Mostar, Prozor and Jablanica before the war. Some have been at the camp since 1992.

"The first time I visited, it was just to count the exact number of people living here," remembers Sgt. Claude Allemand, French Gendarme. "When I arrived, it was a disaster. The heating and sanitary conditions were appalling and there was no electricity. I also noticed that a lot of people were suffering from a variety of eye problems."

It was later discovered that a viral conjunctivitis epidemic had indeed broken out among the residents of the camp. But rather than just make his report and move on, Allemand decided to go one step further and organise a volunteer program to improve the refugees medical condition.
Supported by Capt. Dominique Menetrey, MCMP co-ordinator, Allemand requested authorisation for SFOR medical personnel to visit and treat the residents of the camp, which had not been seen by a physician for over four years.
"At the camp, conditions of hygiene were very precarious," said Capt. Jean-Yves Devaud, a French general practitioner. "Residents suffered from a variety of medical problems such as mycosis, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and depression.

The process was not simple, but finally on April 18, MND-SW headquarters authorised the programme, and soon thereafter, visits by local SFOR physician were scheduled to the camp.

After visiting the camp a few times to administer treatment, Capt. Schinelli, an Italian ophthalmologist from the Mostar camp hospital, realised that many of the refugees were also suffering from a variety of medical conditions which were outside his area of expertise. Since that time, Devaud has volunteered to visit the camp every Thursday morning to address this need. Assisting with the visits are two auxiliaries, one interpreter and a patrol from Allemand's CMPM unit.
"By word of mouth, everybody knows that we are coming now," said Devaud. "Every Thursday morning, an average of twenty people arrive to receive treatment."

Now that the "house calls" have become routine, people anticipate the Thursday morning visits by SFOR personnel. They're now able to receive not only initial consultations, but follow-up treatment, if necessary.

"We just did what we thought was right and acted to find a solution to the problem," said Allemand. "It has become a very rewarding experience and an unofficial extension to the MP’s mission."

Related links:
The Nations of SFOR: France
SFOR at work
Humanitarian Aid