Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

24 May 1999


After a full week during which there were very few new arrivals at the Morini border crossing, the influx resumed with full force on Friday, May 21 when 3,650 refugees streamed across the border. Most were women and children, coming from the Suva Reka region.

On Saturday 22 May, another 608 refugees crossed the border. The first 85 refugees were families, mainly elderly people, women and children. Then, in mid-afternoon, an entirely different influx took place. Seven batches of men crossed. The first consisted of middle-aged men, but younger men followed. They were in pitiful condition: emaciated, exhausted and confused. Many had contusions and other signs of severe beatings. They embraced each other and wept openly as they reached safety.

From interviews with the men, a consistent, terrifying story emerged, which corroborates the testimony of a young Kosovar woman given to UNHCR staff in Sarajevo last week. The men had been part of a large group of Kosovars which was trying to flee from Kosovska Mitrovica area to Albania in mid-April. On 16 April, which was the 3rd day of their trek toward the border, they were stopped by Serbian forces at Gremnik (Grebnik in Serbian), just south of Klina. They were forced to remain for 6 days at Gremnik and then told to return to Mitrovica. On the way back they were stopped at Srbica where most of the fighting-age men were separated out from the group. The main group was ordered to return to Mitrovica.

The men were initially held in a nearby school. Then they were moved to the prison at Smrekovnica (south-east of Mitrovica town) where they were held until their unexpected release on 22 May. They said there were 2,000-3,000 men in the prison, but that around 50 men were at one point kept in a police station and then taken to the front line to be used as human shields.

The men said they had not received any food during the first 50 hours of their captivity, and thereafter received mostly just bread and water. One man said they were beaten when they ate. Others spoke of daily interrogations, beatings and torture. They said that early on Saturday (May 22) some names of prisoners were read out. They feared they would be taken out and shot. Instead they were taken to the border area by bus and ordered to walk across.

The men spent their first night of freedom in a UNHCR tented warehouse in Kukes town. They received food from the UAE team. Several were taken to clinics.

On Sunday late in the day another 456 refugees crossed the border, 419 of whom who were men released on Sunday from the Smrekovnica prison near Kosovska Mitrovica. Many of the men told UNHCR that they had been detained at other places in Kosovo at various times since late March.

FYR of Macedonia

The influx into the FYR of Macedonia continued over the weekend with full force, with 1,300 arrivals on Friday, 7,700 on Saturday and 5,700 on Sunday, placing the FYR of Macedonia border authorities under considerable strain.

On Friday 21 May, ten buses, which reportedly had been sent from Kosovo Polje, Pristina and Urosevac to replace the daily train, which did not arrive, carried 800 refugees to Blace. Most travelled from Pristina, but many were displaced people from other areas who had been living hand-to-mouth in Pristina for the last month or more. One refugee told UNHCR that police had blocked off several quarters of Pristina and forced people from their homes, separating young men out from the rest. Another 460 refugees crossed the "green" border at Malina Mala.

On Saturday 22 May, 7,700 refugees arrived. Most (around 7,000) crossed at Blace after arriving on a train and on buses. Refugees reported that a large number of displaced people are crammed into a few houses in Slatina village (south of Urosevac) and confirmed earlier reports that the town of Kamena Glava (Urosevac municipality) is in the hands of Serbian forces.

Another group of refugees from Gjylekare (Djelekare) near Vitina reported that on May 15th they had seen six people gunned down by Serbian militiamen as the village was being "cleansed". The six allegedly included two women (one over 60 years old), two children aged 5 and 10, and two men, who were shot as they tried to run from their house.

Also on Saturday another 620 refugees crossed illegally in the Jazince area after fleeing from different villages in the Kacanik municipality which reportedly had come under heavy attack by Serbian forces recently. They reported that the town of Kacanik itself is totally empty and only inhabited by Serbian troops.

On Sunday, another 5,700 refugees arrived at Blace on one train and 11 buses. The situation in the no-man's-land was tense and chaotic, and late on Sunday the UNHCR Emergency Co-ordinator was informed by the Foreign Ministry that the authorities wanted the new arrivals transferred directly to Albania. Following intensive negotiations which continued into the early hours of the morning, in the course of which UNHCR insisted that transfers of refugees to other countries must be strictly voluntary, it finally was agreed at around 2 a.m. that the refugees would be transferred into camps in the FYR of Macedonia. Several hundred people who had already been loaded on to buses for Albania were then taken to the Stenkovec camp and the remaining several thousand refugees were admitted to the holding centre at Blace.

Republic of Montenegro

UNHCR staff in Rozaje report few new arrivals in recent days. There are indications that the border is sealed on both sides by the Yugoslav military, which would make passage for displaced people difficult. There were just 10 new arrivals on 19 May and 18 persons crossed on 20 May. Around 250 refugees arrived on 21-22 May, coming from Rakos village east of Istok. Their travel along the Mitrovica-to-Rozaje road was apparently assured by the military. No information is available yet concerning any arrivals on 23 May.

There has been no significant change in the stand-off over control of Montenegro's external borders, with Yugoslav army checkpoints still set up on roads near the border crossings with Croatia and Albania.

Transfer of displaced people from the factories being used as collective centres in Rozaje to camps in Ulcinj continues. On Friday 21 May UNHCR escorted two busloads of Kosovars (105 persons) to tented sites in Ulcinj. Movements will resume today.

UNHCR has publicized the fact that it is not involved in an apparent scam which has been detected in Ulcinj, whereby displaced people are offered transportation to Sarajevo via Podgorica for 2,000 DM, with a promise of onward movement from Sarajevo to third countries. The perpetrators of this scam have been presenting it as a UNHCR programme, which it is not.

UNHCR staff received the U.N. inter-agency mission, which arrived in Rozaje over the weekend. Meetings with the Montenegrin government are scheduled for today.

UNHCR/IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

Departures during the 3-day period 21-23 May totalled 4,237.

On Friday 21 May, there were 2,367 departures to 11 different countries (Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA).

On Saturday 22 May, departures fell to their lowest level since May 3rd. Just 866 refugees left Skopje, bound for Austria, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway.

On Sunday 23 May there were 994 departures, to Denmark, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia.

To date, just over 60,000 refugees have left the FYR of Macedonia for humanitarian evacuation to other countries.