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Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

2 April 1999

The Exodus

During 1 April, 40,000 refugees arrived in Macedonia or at the Kosovo/Macedonia border. Over 20,000 arrived in Albania.

A total of seven trains crammed with thousands of Kosovars have arrived at the Macedonian border over the past 3 days, in what refugees reported was a deliberate and systematic policy to empty Pristina of its ethnic Albanian population.

The seventh train arrived after dark near the Macedonian border, with 30 train cars packed with thousands of people. The train stopped around 2 km before the border post and the passengers were made to walk along the railroad track to the Macedonian border post, where they joined thousands of others who had arrived earlier. In addition to the train arrivals, thought to number around 20,000 people, a further circa 20,000 people crossed by road at the Blace and Tetovo frontier points during the day.

UNHCR and other agencies distributed blankets, bread, water and juice to the crowd massed at the Macedonian border during the night. Some of the new arrivals were transported to three newly opened collective centres but most remained in an open field. Discussions with the government continued to make sure aid agencies had access to the refugees and to seek to move them to a more humane location. The government said the refugee tragedy was beyond its ability to cope, and insisted on burden-sharing.

Everyone interviewed told similar stories. Police moved through Pristina in the last few days firing into the air and ordering people to assemble in the Dragodan neighbourhood near the main railway line. People were forced to gather into a huge crowd to await their expulsion by train or bus.

Witnesses described Pristina as a ghost town. Soldiers told the departing civilians they were getting 'a free ride to Macedonia' as a 'gift from the government' in exchange for their houses and cars.

At the Albanian border, Kosovars who had been expelled from their homes and forced onto buses were deposited several kilometres from the border post and made to walk the rest of the way. UNHCR staff reported that 20,900 people arrived at the Morina crossing point and 1,500 at the Qafe Prushit crossing point. The arrivals were mostly women, children and elderly people. UNHCR staff at Qafe Prushit reported that two women and two children died on arrival there, apparently of exhaustion and exposure.

UNHCR in the Republic of Montenegro

The pace of arrivals in Montenegro was slower yesterday than in Macedonia and Albania.

UNHCR staff in Montenegro reported around 1,300 new arrivals on 1 April, for a total of 31,000 arrivals since 24 March. Together with the Montenegrin Red Cross and government authorities, UNHCR distributed food on 1 April to refugees in Ulcinj municipality and will continue food distribution on 2 April in Rozaje.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Arrivals of refugees continue. These include Moslems from the Sandjak region of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as well as Albanians and Serbs from Kosovo itself. Over the past five days, hardly any men have managed to leave the FR Yugoslavia, so that the arrivals are primarily women and children. Interviews with the newly arrived refugees from the Sandjak region give an impression of an increasing level of tension and fear in the area.

International Meetings

High Commissioner Mrs. Sadako Okata attended a meeting in Bonn on 1 April convened by Germany in its capacity as current holder of the Presidency of the European Union to discuss the humanitarian dimensions of the crisis. Germany, Austria and Finland attended (as current, past and next Presidents of the European Union) together with 8 Southeast European countries, and the OSCE.

The meeting underlined the importance of effective regional cooperation in dealing with the situation and called for the immediate implementation of, among others, the following measures:

  • Immediate reaction to calls for aid to meet the most urgent needs of the refugees, in particular by supplying food, medical supplies, equipment for camps, and means of transport.
  • Establishment of a regular airlift to bring supplies to the refugees, in addition to previous deliveries of aid by air.

On 6 April the High Commissioner will convene the Humanitarian Issues Working Group in Geneva. This Group, established in July 1992 in the framework of the old International Conference for the former Yugoslavia, provides a non-political forum for the discussion of humanitarian questions. The forthcoming meeting will focus on actions to address the Kosovo refugee crisis. 56 States have been invited to participate as well as UN and non-governmental agencies.