Kosovo Crisis Update
High Commissioner's Briefing
High Commissioner Sadako Ogata, addressing the UN Security Council, called Wednesday on asylum countries to continue to open their doors to refugees from Kosovo.
"Host countries have kept their borders open for the most part, in spite of the enormous burden placed upon them by the influx." Mrs. Ogata said. "In recent weeks, however, we have seen some countries waver in their commitment to admit refugees to their territory. It is essential that they continue to keep borders open, facilitate safe access to refugees by humanitarian agencies, and allow refugees to move immediately to secure, adequately equipped camps."
Mrs. Ogata said denying refugees asylum would expose them to violence and death. She said UNHCR would continue to mobilize international support in order to ease the burden on asylum countries.
The High Commissioner also urged countries participating in a humanitarian evacuation programme to increase the pace of movement of refugees from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries. Of the 85,000 slots offered by European countries so far, only 28,000 have been filled.
She said UNHCR and its partners are setting up camps away from insecure border areas, adding that "very soon, unless an early political solution creates conditions for refugees to return home, we shall have to make plans to equip refugee camps and public buildings for the bitter Balkan winter."
Mrs. Ogata referred to a "serious threat" posed by human traffickers who have already started smuggling refugees across the Adriatic into Italy and the European Union. "Young women, often forced into prostitution, and children, are frequent victims," she said.
She also said she was extremely worried about the humanitarian situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, where UNHCR was helping more than 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina before the conflict in March.
On a relatively quiet day, 1,269 people crossed the border at Morini Wednesday. They came by bus, tractor trailers and on foot to the frontier from three principal areas - Djakovica, Mitrovica and Orahovac. Their movements all appeared to be in the context of "mopping up" operations in those regions rather than targetted large-scale expulsions.
There were no reports of any new major atrocities or executions. Several educated people arrived from Prizren including one well-known local politician, who did not want his name used. This appears to be part of an ongoing campaign in Prizren, to rid the town of all of its educated elite. The latest arrivals were picked up at work or at home and given minutes to leave. The rest of their families stayed behind.
In a separate incident, police at the local Albanian village of Domaj, three kilometres from the Morini border post reported that the bodies of three people had washed up ashore there and they believe the bodies were from Kosovo. The river stretches back into Kosovo. One of the bodies had been virtually decapitated.
A total of 5,040 people left Kukes for areas south on Wednesday, principally by bus and truck. Only a few days ago, UNHCR had requested that NATO provide it with enough trucks to move 5,000 people a day.
In meetings yesterday, local and government officials again stressed to UNHCR and other partners that the security risks continued to heighten and the government wanted the refugees to move out of the Kukes area 'as quickly as possible.' This has also been UNHCR's position. In line with that, a delegation from the United Arab Emirate camp, the largest tented camp in Kukes, was scheduled to fly by helicopter today to look at a possible alternate site at Hamallaj near Durres and report back.
UNHCR was asked in Kukes on Wednesday by journalists about reports it was closing the camps there. UNHCR said that the closure or relocation of camps was under consideration but no final decision had been taken and that talks had already been held with officials including the UAE people. It was emphasized however that Kukes will remain as a major transit point for refugees, and facilities such as medical centres, collective centres and other services will remain. The seven tented camps hold around 30,000 people of the estimated 100,000 refugees in the Kukes area. The reason emphasis is being placed on these camps is that they are the most vulnerable to any security threat.
The government, in talks Wednesday, highlighted the general deterioration of security in the region by reporting that 4,000 Albanians had been displaced from border villages in the last couple of weeks because of military activity in the Has region north of Kukes. On Wednesday, six homes were destroyed by shelling in a village called Letaj and four homes in a village called Dobrune. Several families were displaced. UNHCR and WFP said they stood ready to help internally displaced persons in such circumstances if they required assistance.
FYR of Macedonia
UNHCR staff saw about 1,000 refugees forcibly returned to the Yugoslav side of the border Wednesday evening, pushed back first by Macedonian authorities, then by the Serb side. Once they were back in Yugoslav territory, Serbian troops could be seen beating and shoving the refugees until they were out of sight.
UNHCR is deeply alarmed at this action and extremely concerned over the fate of these refugees and possibly thousands more behind them.
Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has assured UNHCR that Macedonia's open-door policy remains in effect, as of 10 a.m. today, UNHCR staff saw no new movements of refugees across the border.
UNHCR is seeking a direct meeting with the Minister of the Interior to seek an explanation of this incident.
Before the push back, about 2,600 refugees managed to enter the FYR of Macedonia.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
Departures under the humanitarian evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries totalled 1,942 on Wednesday. They included 156 to Austria, 265 to Canada, 283 to the Netherlands, 151 to Norway, 90 to Slovakia, 160 to Sweden, 153 to Switzerland, 224 to Turkey and 460 to the United States.