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UNHCR seeks more help from governments and urges states to keep borders open as refugee crisis mounts

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UNHCR seeks more help from governments and urges states to keep borders open as refugee crisis mounts

20 April 1999

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today warned that the unrelenting stream of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo may put the resources of humanitarian agencies under severe strain.There have been reports of new, massive movements of people fleeing their homes inside Kosovo and heading towards the province's borders.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata vowed that UNHCR will continue to help Kosovo's neighbours cope with the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Serbian province. "We will do our utmost," she said, "but we need additional support, and we need it now."

Ogata urged members of the NATO alliance and other countries to step up their support on the ground to help deal with a growing number of people forced to flee their homes, often at gunpoint: more than 650,000 have fled so far. "This emergency has already shown that traditional responses are not sufficient," she said. "It is much bigger and much faster than other outflows. We need help to transport relief supplies. We need help to set up more camps. We will continue to lead this operation, but we urgently need more contributions of the kind that only military and civil protection units can provide."

The High Commissioner also urged that borders be kept open to tens of thousands of terrified Kosovo refugees, while international support is being mobilized.

She welcomed Macedonia's decision Monday to allow the construction of a new refugee camp and a new transit centre. Ogata also asked Macedonia to approve the construction of more camps and the expansion of the existing ones to accommodate newly arriving refugees. Many more camps are required in Albania to bring refugees from temporary accommodation in the north and from other locations if needed. She said UNHCR has asked governments to accelerate the programme of humanitarian evacuations to fly more refugees from Macedonia to other countries. To date, more than 15,000 Kosovo refugees have been evacuated to European nations in a programme coordinated by UNHCR.

Ogata, however, warned that while providing support to humanitarian agencies, political leaders must redouble their efforts to reach a political solution, "otherwise," she said, "the Kosovo refugee crisis will affect the Balkans for years to come." She also urged the world to focus on the immediate cause of the crisis. "The bottom line is that ethnic cleansing must stop, and it must stop immediately", she said. "If it does not end, this crisis will continue for a long time, and more people will suffer, no matter how efficient we are in bringing relief to refugees."