Kosovo Crisis Update
UNHCR has assembled a team that will go into Kosovo as soon as it gets the signal from the international security force expected to deploy inside the Serbian province shortly. UNHCR will dispatch its first relief convoy as soon as security clearance is given.
Assistant High Commissioner Søren Jessen-Petersen is joining senior UNHCR officials and representatives of other agencies in Skopje this weekend to discuss final preparations for the return of more than 780,000 refugees and displaced people to their homes in Kosovo.
UNHCR Special Envoy Dennis McNamara, on his way to Tirana, Albania, made a statement welcoming the military agreement reached Wednesday night between NATO and Yugoslav generals implementing the peace accord last week.
"We have been waiting for it. We are now in the process of stepping up a programme for people going back to their homes in Kosovo once security is assured. We are putting in place arrangements for the first convoy to go in as soon as we get the green light from the international security force that will go into Kosovo very soon," McNamara said.
"This is all great news for all of us, but we urge the refugees and the displaced to be patient. We need a secure environment before we start moving people back. As soon as this is possible we will move them back."
"We - all the U.N. agencies - will go with them. We will take them back to their homes when it is safe and help them rebuild. But we urge the refugees not to rush ahead of us. Our message to them is wait until it is safe. We are working with the security force and we will do it together," McNamara said.
No arrivals were reported at the Morini crossing on Wednesday. It was the first time that no refugees crossed the border since the announcement of the peace agreement last week and the fourth time that zero arrivals were recorded since the massive influx of refugees into Kosovo started in late March.
In the past several weeks, many of the arrivals were men released from the Smrekovnica prison near Kosovska Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. Around 3,000 detainees have been released from the prison since last month and have arrived in northern Albania.
The number of refugees moving out of the northern Albanian town of Kukes has also dropped sharply. On Wednesday, UNHCR and Albanian government trucks transported 364 refugees to camps in Shkodra and Durres. Today, 125 people are to be moved out of Kukes in NATO trucks. Most of these refugees are joining family members who had left Kukes earlier. An average of 2,000 people have been moving out daily from Kukes in the relocation movement, which was initially prompted by security concerns along the border.
There was little sign of military activity across the border, where intense fighting was reported last week between Serbian troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army.
FYR of Macedonia
Just 150 Kosovars entered the FYR of Macedonia on Wednesday, saying that Serbian paramilitary forces had gone on a rampage on hearing of the peace accord.
All the arrivals from Gnjilane, Pristina, Vucitrn and Kosovska Kamenica came through the official crossings - 90 in Tabanovce, 56 in Jazince and 4 in the main immigration control point at Blace. They said Serbian authorities were not allowing people without documents to leave the country.
The people who came from Gnjilane said the Serbian paramilitary groups looted and shelled houses there after hearing news broadcasts of the peace agreement.
Some refugees say they heard Serbian military officers were selling their property in Kosovo, but others say that in the Vitina area Serbians were posting ownership notices on empty houses and land.
Meanwhile, teams from the NGO International Medical Corps have been vaccinating children at the Stenkovec II camp over the past three days. UNICEF also has started a psycho-social counselling programme at the camp.
Republic of Montenegro
Montenegrin officials have agreed to allow aid agencies to use Montenegro as a logistical base to provide relief supplies to Kosovo once humanitarian operations get under way in the Serbian province.
The officials say the port of Bar provides excellent services for receiving, storing and moving onward relief goods either by train or truck to Kosovo. They also offer to allow passage for refugees in Albania to Kosovo, proposing Rozaje and Tuzi as stopover sites for transiting returnees.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
Departures under the UNHCR-IOM humanitarian evacuation programme totalled 941 on Wednesday, bringing the overall count to 81,705. Destinations were France, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
UNHCR has received offers for 137,000 places in 40 countries for the programme.