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UNHCR assistance for the winter well ahead of schedule

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UNHCR assistance for the winter well ahead of schedule

23 November 2001

SKOPJE - UNHCR continues to intensify its various programmes of assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons returning to their homes, fulfilling the organisation's commitment for return, stabilisation and confidence building measures as outlined in the Framework Agreement. Some 55,000 persons have so far benefited from UNHCR's assistance.

"The humanitarian community has established a robust presence throughout the conflict affected areas, assisting the most vulnerable in a bid to overcome winter", said Amin Awad, UNHCR Representative in Skopje.

Close to 8,000 family return kits, containing mattresses, blankets, tools, plastic sheeting for roofs and windows and hygienic items like soap and detergents, have been distributed. Distribution continues in order to reach the target of 10,000 kits, which is the total need identified for 2001. Further, distribution of firewood has started and an identified need of 26,000 cubic metres of firewood will be covered in the coming weeks, to assist returnees, vulnerable families, schools and clinics in the affected areas during these harsh winter months.

UNHCR is assisting the Government in implementing its plan 'Strategy for the Repair and Reconstruction of Damaged Buildings and Roads in the Crisis Areas' by co-ordinating the programme to facilitate self-help repairs for 3,162 houses in category 1 and 2. UNHCR itself has funded and is managing such self-help repairs for 1,686 of the houses. "About 80% of the shelter materials have already been delivered to beneficiaries and UNHCR will complete its shelter repair programme ahead of schedule and before 31 December", said Mr.Awad. The UNHCR's shelter programme is now fully underway. Over 25 truckloads of shelter materials are departing daily from UNHCR's warehouses.

Funds for the UNHCR Quick Impact Project (QIP) for this year have all been allocated. 24 projects are approved and implementation has started. The projects are located throughout the crisis region and in other affected communities. The approved projects consist primarily of the rehabilitation of schools, but also include water and sanitation projects, repair of ambulantas and rehabilitation of community civic centres. All QIP activities will be completed by 31 December 2001.

To facilitate freedom of movement, UNHCR is continuing its nine bus lines, providing needed transport to students, teachers, doctors and workers. The bus lines are currently operating in the Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo areas. UNHCR will continue operating bus lines to facilitate freedom of movement wherever there are obstacles or restrictions of people movement and access to services.

"There remain some obstacles for return and security, freedom of movement and the threat of mines and unexploded ordnance are on the top of the list, for which concerted efforts are still needed to find solutions", warned Mr. Awad.

The seven months long conflict displaced some 140,000 persons. Over 90,000 refugees and internally persons have returned to their homes. 12,000 refugees still remain in Kosovo, while some 40,000 persons remain internally displaced - according to the Red Cross' figures for October.