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Kosovo: UNHCR's 90 days in country

Briefing notes

Kosovo: UNHCR's 90 days in country

14 September 1999

As of Monday, UNHCR has been back in the province of Kosovo for 90 days; over this time we have witnessed a sea change in the situation.

Some 810,000 refugees have so far streamed back into Kosovo, and thousands more return each week on direct flights from third countries to Pristina or nearby Skopje airports while others come back in their own vehicles.

UNHCR's winterization programme is well underway, with nearly half of UNHCR's 16,000 shelter kits already distributed. These basic shelter kits are designed to help families ensure that they have at least one room warm and dry through the winter. The basic kits helped tens of thousands of families through the cold Bosnian winters, and will help many Kosovars as well. Other key partners in the winterization exercise are ECHO and USOFDA, which will distribute the lion's share of the kits. UNHCR and its two partners are also distributing more than 37,000 roofing kits that include rafters and plastic sheeting in order to help winterize more seriously damaged homes.

This is a critical time for the winter preparations, and a great many Kosovars living in mountainous regions are already feeling the autumn nip. Some people living in tents up in the hills complain that they cannot sleep at night because of the chill. We have brought more than 800,000 blankets into the province and have distributed more than 300 hectares of plastic to date. UNHCR is also bringing into Kosovo 15,000 all weather tents with stoves, plus 20,000 other tents that can be installed in barns or other covered shelters as necessary. The winterization programme is proceeding, but this is a critical time. We are also pleased to see a great many Kosovars working feverishly to rebuild their homes, apparently benefiting from remittances coming in from relatives working abroad.

The security situation facing non-Albanians has been a major concern for UNHCR. Violent attacks particularly against Serbs and Roma occur regularly. UNHCR and OSCE have released a report on the matter, and we are calling for more outspoken attention to this matter not only by the international community, but by local leaders at all levels, as the message must get down to the community level that violence is unacceptable.