UNHCR assists thousands displaced by Kosovo violence

News Stories, 23 March 2004

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Widespread destruction in Kosovo, seen here in Djakova in 1999, has become a reality again.

GENEVA, March 23 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has provided aid to thousands of people displaced by last week's violence in Kosovo, and reaffirmed its support for confidence-building projects for those who want to go home.

More than 3,200 minority people mostly ethnic Serbs and Romas have been evacuated by the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) since clashes erupted in this restive province of Serbia and Montenegro last Wednesday. Some have returned home as the overall situation calmed down, but most of them are still living in KFOR bases and with host families.

UNHCR has distributed food, mattresses, blankets, jerry cans and hygiene items to the displaced people, who represent nearly 10 percent of the minority population in the Albanian-dominated southern portion of Kosovo.

Angry crowds in Kosovo last week burnt down 286 houses and 30 churches, and damaged another 80 houses and 11 churches. The violence and destruction marked a major setback to years of international efforts to promote inter-ethnic reconciliation in Serbia and Montenegro.

An estimated 220,000 ethnic Serbs and Romas fled Kosovo for Serbia and Montenegro when Serbian forces pulled out of Kosovo in 1999. Only a small portion of them has since gone back.

Nonetheless, UNHCR remains committed to continuing confidence-building projects like its twice-weekly bus line running between Prizren and Strpce in southern Kosovo, and go-and-see visits for people wishing to return to Kosovo from Serbia. The refugee agency is also involved in reconstruction and income-generating programmes for returnees in Kosovo.