Operation Safe Haven
In 1999, AMES worked collaboratively with a team of government, non-government and community organisations to deliver education and child minding services to displaced Kosovar and East Timorese residents following humanitarian crises in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and later the former Indonesian province of East Timor.
Operation Safe Haven, one of the largest humanitarian exercises ever undertaken by a government agency, provided a temporary safe haven to nearly 4,000 Kosovar Albanians and 1,800 East Timorese in WA, NSW and Victoria.
In Victoria, the Safe Havens were located at Puckapunyal and Portsea Army bases and later at Bandiana barracks.
The Kosovar conflict was effectively a war that started in February 1998 and lasted until June 1999. It was part of a larger Balkans conflict that saw the break-up of Yugoslavia and had already seen the creation of the nations of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Kosovar conflict was fought by the forces of the Republic of Yugoslavia – made up of Serbia and Montenegro - which controlled Kosovo before the war, and the Kosovo Albanian rebel group the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
The conflict ended when NATO intervened with airstrikes in March 1999 which resulted in Yugoslav forces withdrawing from Kosovo.
Kosovar-Albanian refugee Mirisha Bowler says she has always been grateful for the safety and opportunities Australia gave her.
“This country gave me everything that I dreamed of as a little girl but could never have achieved in my homeland,” she said
“Coming here was like starting a new life. It was fantastic. I could not believe the Australian Government and the people here would look after us as they did,” Mirisha said.
“They sorted out everything we needed from accommodation to health care. We were supported financially. In Kosovo, I would never have dreamed this would happen.
“Coming to this country gave me the opportunities and the help I needed. With the support and opportunities I was given, I learned the language, I studied and started a career, I bought a house and I met a wonderful man and got married. These things could never have happened in Kosovo,” she said.
Mirisha married her Australian husband Phillip after arriving here and still supports her parents in Kosovo.
The East Timor crisis began in May with attacks by pro-Indonesia militia groups on civilians, and expanded to general violence throughout the country, mainly in the capital Dili.
The violence intensified after a majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in a referendum.
Around 1,400 civilians are believed to have died. An UN-authorised force, known as INTERFET, consisting mostly of Australian troops was deployed to East Timor to establish and maintain peace.