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Return to Kosovo

Briefing notes

Return to Kosovo

11 June 1999

UNHCR and other agencies are beginning the monumental task of providing humanitarian aid inside Kosovo, initially to hundreds of thousands of displaced people there, which now is a main priority, and then to returning refugees. As convoy preparations got underway, several hundred elderly and frail refugees crossed into Macedonia after a four day and four night trek through the mountains. Unaware of the peace agreement, the refugees said there were thousands more stuck in the mountains behind them in desperate need of help.

An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 people are believed to be in desperate condition inside Kosovo. There has been no assistance provided to them in the last two and a half months and the situation inside Kosovo is grim, according to a UN assessment mission there last month.

UNHCR will send liaison officers with the initial group from the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) which is poised to enter Kosovo within hours. A team of UNHCR staff will be standing by in Skopje ready to move once the green light is given.

UNHCR and other agencies are now loading convoys that will move into Kosovo, possibly on Sunday, if everything goes well and the signal that it is safe is given by the international security force.

The first convoy of vehicles from UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF and NGOs and will carry humanitarian daily rations, or meals ready to eat, pallets of bottled water, blankets, hygienic kits and plastic sheeting and tents. They will also carry office equipment. The convoy should go to Pristina to set up camp at the airport. This will mark the start of a long-term convoy operation with two convoys planned every day.

The convoy will be the first by UNHCR and its implementing partners since their staff were evacuated on the eve of the NATO action on 24 March. UNHCR is ready to return to Kosovo and resume its operations there as soon as NATO has signalled that the way to Pristina is safe. We will do our utmost to help refugees to return as quickly as possible, but it is essential that people do not return before safety has been assured.

UNHCR is urging partner agencies to maintain their programmes in the FYR of Macedonia and Albania. Even as return proceeds, assistance will continue to be required by refugees remaining in those countries for quite some time.