Inside Mission Kosovo: How UAE offered glimmer of hope amid war

A new documentary airing 9 p.m. Friday on National Geographic Abu Dhabi tells the story of the various ways the UAE Armed Forces provided aid to during its first humanitarian mission to Europe during the Kosovo War.

Dr Aysha Al Dhaheri (left) of the UAE Armed Forces is reunited with Fatima Elezi. Dr Al Dhaheri helped deliver Fatima when she was born in a refugee camp Albania in May of 1999. Photo Courtesy Nomad Productions
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The first baby born in an Albanian refugee camp was delivered by an Emirati woman.

The year was 1999, at the height of the war in Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanians were being slaughtered and families were forced to flee their homes. One, the Elezis, fled to an unusual camp in Kukes, Albania.

It was known as the Five-Star Camp because refugees were guaranteed three meals a day, shelter with cots, blankets and guarded security. It even had its own runway.

It was built and run by the UAE Armed Forces during the country’s first deployment to Europe.

And it was there, on May 4, 1999, that Lt Col Dr Aysha Al Dhaheri delivered the first baby born in any of the camps set up to house the thousands displaced by the conflict.

The birth of this girl offered some much-needed hope, Dr Al Dhaheri said.

“The birth of a child is what brought a little bit of happiness to the refugees in the camp,” she said.

The Elezises called their daughter Fatima – an uncommon name for that region – as a tribute to Sheikha Fatima, wife of the late Sheikh Zayed who launched the UAE Armed Forces’ first humanitarian mission to Europe.

The legacy of that mission and its lasting impact on the thousands of Albanian refugees it sheltered, fed and protected is the focus of a new Arabic-language documentary produced by the UAE’s Nomad Productions.

The film tells the story of the various ways the UAE Armed Forces provided aid in the Kosovo War.

It not only helped refugees like Fatima, but also protected Muslim mosques and Christian Orthodox churches, rebuilt schools and hospitals and cleared mines.

It also built houses for families who had lost their homes.

“The UAE Armed Forces made a real difference to the country in 1999, and we wanted to show this,” said Nomad Productions director Phil Griffiths.

“However, we also wanted to tell the individual stories of the people and communities the UAE Armed Forces made an impact on.”

Those stories include an emotional reunion between baby Fatima, now a teenager, and Dr Al Dhaheri.

“After searching for her and finally going to meet her, I was scared her family would not recognise me after 12 years,” Dr Al Dhaheri said.

“But when they welcomed me with warmth and showed me all the pictures, and newspapers and articles documenting her birth, it made me feel very happy.”

Inside Mission Kosovo airs at 9pm on Friday on the National Geographic Abu Dhabi channel.