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Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

22 April 1999


A lone trailer truck crossed the main Morini border Wednesday, carrying 130 refugees. The refugees came from Istok and said they had walked for five days to reach the small town of Zrze, in the municipality of Prizren, where they spent one night before being told to leave. They said they had met several other large groups of people moving towards the border area during their journey. Early on Thursday, another 650 crossed.

UNHCR is intensifying efforts to transfer refugees from the Kukes area to other parts of Albania, because of the precarious security situation in the border area and the need to free up places for refugees who may arrive in large numbers. An information campaign is underway to explain to refugees why they should agree to move out of the area. 8,000 refugees were transferred by road to sites in the south yesterday. The cumulative number of refugees reported by the authorities to have been moved south is 212,200, but UNHCR believes more have travelled south in private vehicles and taxis. In addition, a NATO helicopter lift from Kukes yesterday carried four families, totalling 79 refugees, to the town Peshkopi.

The majority of refugees who have been transferred from Kukes to southern prefectures are still living in temporary accommodation prepared by local authorities, including sports halls and schools. An estimated 100,000 are living in various types of private accommodation, including with host families.

UNHCR, IOM and the Albanian government are proceeding with plans for a general registration of all refugees in Albania. The goal is to complete this huge exercise by the end of May.

It is estimated that 80 to 100 NGOs of all nationalities and sizes are now providing assistance to refugees throughout the country. UNHCR has recently conducted a survey to identify gaps in the provision of assistance and is coordinating NGO efforts to cover these gaps. An NGO Information Centre is scheduled to open soon, funded by the International Rescue Committee, to help with information sharing.

FYR of Macedonia

There were no new arrivals of refugees reported at the border with the FYR of Macedonia on Wednesday, though the remaining 800 refugees who had been stranded in no man's land near Lojane were allowed to enter early on 21 April. They were transported to the Neprosteno camp. As of Thursday morning, it was reported that no further refugees were in the Lojane no man's land area.

Between 6,000 and 8,000 refugees are still reported to be staying - some of them without shelter - in and around the remote mountain village of Male Malina (also called Malina Mala). A UNHCR team and two trucks carrying blankets and food were dispatched to the area yesterday, but were not permitted to proceed by the authorities. UNHCR in Skopje is continuing negotiations with authorities for the entry of this group.

The transfer into the country of over 5,000 refugees who entered at Lojane over the past three days has placed extreme pressure on camp infrastructures and services. Camps are full to capacity. Top priority is being given to construction of the new camp at Cegrane. A UN/NGO Emergency Task Force has been established in Skopje to tackle the problems of overcrowding in the camps, the new influxes of refugees and the delivery of assistance.

UNHCR health teams have reported that the medical situation of the estimated 45,600 refugees in camps appears to be stable, with low levels of mortality and no evidence of major outbreaks of disease. However, sanitation and water systems are operating at maximum capacity due to the overcrowding, and UNHCR fears they may soon be insufficient to meet demands.

Republic of Montenegro

On Wednesday two groups of displaced Kosovars are reported to have arrived in Montenegro. One group of 200 displaced persons are reported to have arrived in Montenegro (Rozaje) from the Rugova valley area west of Pec. They said that many more were on the way. The new arrivals came from the villages of Kuciste, Maljevic, Pepic and Drelje. In addition, it was learned mid-morning on Thursday that 300 people had arrived by bus through the Zeleni checkpoint. They reportedly came from Izbica, in the Drenica region, and reported that they had left there on 18 April and walked to Jablanica, where they were put on buses to Tutin, 32 km from Rozaje. From Tutin the Serbian police reportedly organized their travel to Rozaje.

Meanwhile twenty buses carried 2,000 displaced Kosovars from Montenegro to Albania during the day of 21 April.

Tension remains high in and around the municipality of Rozaje. Some local residents of Albanian origin are sending their family members to other areas of Montenegro which are considered safer. In addition, four buses were observed leaving Rozaje for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The passengers were local Muslims from Rozaje as well as persons from Tutin and other areas of the Sandzak region.

The Yugoslav army opened a new check point on the road between Rozaje and Kosovo and UNHCR is concerned that this may prevent displaced people from moving into Montenegro. Tension is also reported to be on the rise in Ulcinj, which is sheltering around 25,000 displaced Kosovars.

On the assistance front: CARE's fresh food programme is being expanded to cover transit centres for new arrivals in Ulcinj, Rozaje and Tuzi. In Ulcinj yesterday UNHCR distributed blankets in the Neptune camp, MSF and SAH are setting up more tents and Caritas Italy is opening an office. Food parcels from World Vision have arrived there. UNHCR also dispatched blankets, soap, jerry cans, sanitary supplies and mattresses to Tuzi yesterday to help the authorities accommodate new arrivals from Rozaje. ICRC food parcels were distributed and MCI purchased and distributed food. 10 mt of WFP wheat flour have been delivered to a bakery in Tuzi to bake bread for the displaced.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

On Wednesday 21 April, 402 refugees were flown out of Skopje to Belgium, Poland and Turkey. Flights to Austria, France and Turkey are scheduled for today.

UNHCR and IOM have completed the registration of the refugee populations in the transit camps of Stankovac I and II, greatly facilitating the identification of refugees for evacuation. The registration includes information on vulnerable refugees and those with missing relatives, as well as on links abroad.

Separated relatives are being located and reunited. In one case, a woman who fled Kosovo with her five children was separated from two of them, a daughter of 15 and a son of 13, on 5 April when they were forced onto buses at the Blace border crossing and taken into the FYR of Macedonia. Their mother and brothers and sisters were meanwhile put onto a plane bound for Turkey where they were transferred to the Kirklareli refugee camp. Upon learning the story, UNHCR staff in Turkey immediately got in touch with the UNHCR humanitarian evacuation team in Macedonia. Thanks to the completion of the registration exercise at Stankovac, the missing children were quickly located and were flown to Turkey yesterday for an emotional reunion with their mother and siblings.