Kosovo Crisis Update
In a late day surge which lasted until nearly midnight, an estimated 4,000 refugees crossed the border from Kosovo into Albania Wednesday.
Many of the new arrivals had been in the hills and mountains for several weeks after abandoning a series of villages in the Urosevac region.
They reported recent heavy fighting between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army, which subsequently urged them to leave the region because food stocks were extremely low.
In a convoy of tractors, this group arrived in the crossroads town of Stimlje where local authorities pushed them south-west towards Albania, rather than in the other main direction toward the FYR of Macedonia.
Many of the refugees on individual tractors said small groups of men had been taken off the vehicles at Stimlje by the local authorities, but neither their overall number nor their fate could be independently determined.
Another group of arrivals came from the Suva Reka area. They, too, had been hiding in the surrounding mountains for several weeks until Serbian authorities rounded them up Tuesday and told them to leave immediately for Albania.
In Kukes, UNHCR field staff continued an "information campaign" to try to persuade some of the 90,000 refugees in the town - especially the estimated 30,000 people in tented camps and tractor parks - to leave the area for safer and better regions in other parts of the country.
Thus far, the campaign has met with only modest success. A total of 288 people in one camp agreed to leave and nearly 3,000 tractor people also said they would go immediately. Many refugees in one collective centre for a third day continued to change their minds. UNHCR is concerned that non-refugee groups are active in the camps trying to dissuade refugees from leaving.
More visits were scheduled Thursday as arrangements were made to move the first refugee "volunteers" out of the region.
FYR of Macedonia
For the seventh straight day, the border area between Kosovo and the FYR of Macedonia at Blace was practically empty yesterday. Only 71 people entered the FYR of Macedonia, including 11 people who crossed the Blace border.
The eleven were the only people allowed to enter the country from a small group that came to the border in a train. Two of the eleven people were transferred to Stenkovec II and the other nine were met at the border by family members who had papers from the Macedonian Red Cross.
Meanwhile, the holding areas at the Blace camps are now undergoing expansion to accommodate up to 9,000 people. Concern has been expressed about the security of Blace II as the area is high on a hill with difficult access. It is also an easy target from the Serbian side.
NATO troops have now erected 780 tents which are ready for occupation at Cegrane in the event of a new influx. UNHCR will supply blankets and mattresses to the area as soon as sufficient warehouse space is available.
Women and Children
Aid agencies have begun programmes to help women refugees, who comprise more than 50 percent of the tented camp population in the FYR of Macedonia.
At Stenkovec I, one of the biggest camps in the FYR of Macedonia, the aid agency Médecins du Monde set up a mental health project immediately after the facility became operational: individual and group therapy programmes are available in the camps, but for the moment, the main concern appeared to be survival.
At Stenkovec II, Oxfam has opened coffee shops for women and men, which have become excellent centres for discussions.
Several other aid organizations - Kvinna til Kvinna and American Friends Service Committee - working with refugee women in other camps are creating "safe havens," meeting places for women, and mother-and-child care programmes.
All camps are lighted and have separate toilet and washing facilities for women. Women are encouraged to report any incident of harassment and sexual assault to UNHCR. So far, no such incidents have been reported.
UNHCR also has submitted a 150,000 Euro plan for funding by the Council of Europe for a summer camp for both refugee children in host families and local children. As apartments hosting refugees are overcrowded, there is a strong need for recreational activities for children, to relieve stress on the households.
Operations and Logistics
In an attempt to improve camp conditions this summer and meet immediate needs of people arriving, UNHCR last week began ferrying on Ilyushin transport planes 21,700 tents to Tirana and 10,000 to Skopje. There are three to four Ilyushin flights scheduled weekly, each carrying 350 to 400 tents.
As part of its preparations for the onset of winter, UNHCR has ordered 15,000 "winterized" tents. Shipments to the region will begin in July through the end of August.
UNHCR also has ordered 690,000 blankets, 2,000 rolls of plastic sheeting and another 142,000 pieces of plastic sheets, 503,000 mattresses, 610,000 family parcels (hygienic kits), and 133,500 jerry cans. Delivery by truck and by air of these items started in April and is continuing. A total of 22 plastic warehouses have been sent to the region and another 20 are being ordered.
Also being ordered are 125 trucks for rubbish collection, 25 trucks for emptying cesspits, 50 water tankers and 10 water purifying equipment.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
A total of 2,484 refugees departed on Tuesday under the humanitarian evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries. This included 109 to Austria, 257 to Canada, 151 to Finland, 321 to France, 406 to Germany, 133 to Norway, 119 to Slovenia, 240 to Spain, 158 to Sweden, 108 to Turkey and 482 to the United States.
Some 43,000 refugees have departed under the programme in which UNHCR has received offers for 135,000 places in 39 countries.
Wednesday's departures were the largest so far in one day. UNHCR expects evacuation flights to increase in the coming weeks.
Germany is activating its additional quota of 5,000 refugees and is willing to receive vulnerable refugees, including medical cases, who have relatives in Germany. Pre-selection of potential candidates has begun.
A 16-member United Kingdom delegation has arrived in Skopje and has scheduled flights for the next six weeks, initially every second day and increasing to one flight per day in June. Although no specific quota has yet been announced, the number of flights already scheduled could offer as many as 9,000 places for refugees, including medical cases, in the United Kingdom.
The Finnish quota of 1,000 was to run out Wednesday, but a delegation from Finland has indicated that its quota could be increased.