Kosovo Crisis Update
FYR of Macedonia
With the arrival of over 5,000 refugees yesterday, the situation in the refugee camps in the FYR of Macedonia has reached breaking point. Camps are overcrowded and tensions are on the rise. The health and sanitation situation is quickly deteriorating, leading to fears of the outbreak of epidemics in the camps with the onset of warmer weather. Some cases of measles have already been reported; a measles and polio vaccination campaign in the camps is underway.
UNHCR continues to urge the government in Skopje to allow the construction of new camps and the expansion of existing ones. UNHCR also urges the government to allow new arrivals, especially those who have relatives in the FYR of Macedonia, to be accommodated by host families as a means of easing the extreme pressure on camps.
The dramatic situation in the camps in the FYR of Macedonia makes it essential that European countries speed up the evacuation of refugees in line with the large number of places which have been offered, but not yet filled.
Of the new arrivals on Tuesday, around 4,000 reached the Blace border crossing on buses from Urosevac and on a train from Kosovo Polje and Lipljan. Several refugees arrived with shrapnel wounds and a number of mothers were so traumatized and weak that they could no longer breastfeed their infants. Refugees who had arrived on Monday and had been temporarily housed at the Blace transit centre were moved to the Stenkovec camps during the day in order to provide space for the new arrivals. New tents were erected at the Blace transit camp, increasing its capacity to 3,000.
Another group of 1,000 refugees arrived on foot at the Lojane border crossing yesterday afternoon, after having trekked through the mountains. Some of them were from the Presevo region of Serbia and reported abuses by paramilitary forces. Although many had relatives in the Lojane area who were eager to take them in, the authorities insisted that they board buses and be moved to camps. Other arrivals were from the village of Miratovce in Vitina municipality.
As of Tuesday, an estimated 78,000 refugees in the FYR of Macedonia were staying with host families or in private accommodation throughout the country. The ability of local communities to provide support for the refugees is a growing concern. A recent survey of local clinics found that many are struggling to meet the increased demands resulting from refugees living with host families and in private accommodation. The survey also identified the primary causes of death as acute respiratory infections among children and chronic diseases among the elderly. In collaboration with WHO and UNICEF, UNHCR is coordinating an NGO Task Force on Community Health Services and is working with the Ministry of Health to coordinate NGO responses to the needs of both the refugees and the local community.
As was the case during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the main needs is for dialysis facilities. Because local health resources are becoming overstretched, UNHCR is actively looking for ways to expand the local dialysis capacity. In general, a partial survey conducted of 22 local clinics showed that their patient load had doubled due to the large presence of refugees staying with host families and in private accommodation.
By midnight last night, a total of 1,700 refugees had arrived at the Morini border crossing on tractors, in cars and on foot. Another 800 people crossed between midnight and daylight on Wednesday. Several groups arrived from Djakovica and said that another large group of refugees was en route from there. Dozens of people interviewed by UNHCR staff said that they had been thrown out of their homes early on Tuesday, and that their houses had been burned behind them. They reported that men were systematically taken off the departing tractors and wagons and taken away. They feared that many had been killed. Refugees who arrived later in the day from the villages of Meja and Orize said they had seen "many bodies."
A group of five men, all academics and professionals from Prizren, said that they had been arrested by Serbian authorities on Tuesday and deposited at the Albanian border. Their wives and children were not allowed to accompany them.
The situation in Prizren, now apparently a main transit point for refugees fleeing to Albania, is said by the new arrivals to be deteriorating sharply, with shortages of food reported. Electricity and water services are said to be sporadic and the residents only leave their houses to search for food. Several refugees from the town said that men had been systematically rounded up in the last few weeks to be used as forced labourers, as blood donors or as "human shields."
Just over 2,000 refugees were moved yesterday from Kukes and Krume in northern Albania to other sites in the south of the country. More tractors were allowed to leave the Kukes area, finally clearing the town centre of Kukes. The "go-and-see" helicopter visits to southern Albania commenced yesterday, with 10 refugee representatives flown to have a look at sites in the south.
UNICEF has continued its vaccination campaign in the Kukes area. A total of 19,500 children have so far been vaccinated against measles and 6,000 against polio.
The Albanian Ministry of Education estimates that there are 120,000 to 130,000 refugee children between the ages of 7 and 18 in Albania. The Ministry has announced a plan to organize summer school for refugee children to allow them to catch up with the classes they have missed in the fall and spring. The Ministry is working in conjunction with UNHCR, UNICEF and NGOs on the expansion and/or rehabilitation of schools and the supply of furniture, textbooks and teaching materials.
Republic of Montenegro
The enhanced military presence around Rozaje has kept tensions high in the area. Nonetheless, UNHCR and NGO staff continue to operate in Rozaje, and yesterday distributed cooking sets to displaced Kosovars staying in factories around the town. A number of NGOs distributed food supplies to factories, collective centres and mosques housing displaced Kosovars. MSF and ACF are installing showers at several sites.
Displaced Kosovars as well as some Montenegrins from the Rozaje area and Muslims from the Sandzak region have been moving into Bosnia and Herzegovina at a steady rate over the past weeks. Recent arrivals have been predominantly women and children. Buses arrived at the Sarajevo train station from Rozaje, Novi Pazar, Sjenica and Bijelo Polje over the past weekend. An increasing proportion of the new arrivals are in need of assistance to find accommodation. Yesterday it was estimated that between 150 and 200 displaced persons were still staying at the train station in Sarajevo.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
On Tuesday 27 April, 1,108 refugees were evacuated to Austria, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. Flights to the Czech Republic, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Turkey are scheduled for today. A Danish government team has arrived in Skopje to begin working on the organization of flights to Denmark.
Several countries have responded positively to UNHCR's call for countries to evacuate refugees with medical problems. The Netherlands authorities have collaborated on the evacuation of 5 dialysis patients and their families. There are still 50 refugee patients on dialysis and more are being evaluated for treatment.
In view of the deteriorating situation in the camps, UNHCR is appealing to European countries - which have offered a total of around 85,000 places for evacuations from FYR of Macedonia - immediately to accelerate the evacuation, and to raise the level of departures to at least 2,000 refugees per day.