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UNHCR calls for calm in Kosovo after deadly clashes

News Stories, 18 March 2004

© UNHCR/R.LeMoyne
A village in Mitrovica destroyed by an earlier outbreak of violence in 1999. The recent clashes underline the fragile character of the situation of Kosovo.

GENEVA, March 18 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has condemned Wednesday's clashes in Kosovo, and appealed to Serbia and Montenegro's ethnic communities to refrain from further violence that could undo years of reconciliation efforts.

More than 20 people were killed in clashes that broke out on Wednesday between ethnic Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. The violence started in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, and spread to Serbia proper. Angry crowds set fire to Kosovo's churches and Serbia's mosques, including Belgrade's only mosque that had been spared even at the height of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. They also stoned UN buildings and vehicles.

"The violence of the past 24 hours threatens to undo years of international efforts to reconcile Serbia and Montenegro's ethnic communities," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers on Thursday. He also urged all ethnic groups to respect places of worship as well as UN property.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner, Kamel Morjane, currently on a week-long mission to the Balkans, was in Belgrade on Thursday. He condemned the violence in Kosovo and said the refugee agency supported attempts to ease tensions, including by the UN administration. He expressed hoped that population displacement could be prevented, adding that UNHCR was monitoring the situation closely and was prepared to respond if necessary.

The explosive deterioration of events underlines the fragile character of the situation in Kosovo. In some areas of Kosovo, minority members had to be escorted to safety on Thursday by the NATO-led Kosovo Force.

An estimated 220,000 ethnic Serbs fled Kosovo for Serbia and Montenegro when Serbian forces pulled out of Kosovo in 1999. Since then, UNHCR has run a series of confidence-building measures to improve inter-ethnic relations and help some Serbs go home to Kosovo. Small numbers have returned as the situation slowly improved.

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Refugee Women

Women and girls make up about 50 percent of the world's refugee population, and they are clearly the most vulnerable. At the same time, it is the women who carry out the crucial tasks in refugee camps – caring for their children, participating in self-development projects, and keeping their uprooted families together.

To honour them and to draw attention to their plight, the High Commissioner for Refugees decided to dedicate World Refugee Day on June 20, 2002, to women refugees.

The photographs in this gallery show some of the many roles uprooted women play around the world. They vividly portray a wide range of emotions, from the determination of Macedonian mothers taking their children home from Kosovo and the hope of Sierra Leonean girls in a Guinean camp, to the tears of joy from two reunited sisters. Most importantly, they bring to life the tremendous human dignity and courage of women refugees even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Refugee Women

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003