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Kosovo Crisis Update

Kosovo Crisis Update

1 May 1999


Refugees crossed in vehicles and on foot through the Morini border post at a pace of up to 1,000 per hour yesterday. A total of 12,000 refugees had crossed into Albania by midnight yesterday, the highest figure since 17 April when over 20,000 crossed. Vehicles and pedestrians could be seen backed up for several kilometres on the road yesterday afternoon. Refugees said the column reached Prizren, some 20 kilometres away from the border. Refugees told UNHCR that they were leaving Prizren since it was their "last chance" and spoke of Serbian troops and heavy armour moving in and around Prizren. Prizren's ethnic Albanian population was reportedly terrified with many men going into hiding.

Refugees arriving are said to be in worse condition than previous arrivals. There is a predominance of elderly refugees and many more cases of cardiovascular disease. UNICEF has stated that incidents of traumatized children are the worst witnessed so far in the Kosovo crisis.

ICRC reports that there is an increasing number of children who have been separated from their parents. Often they are accompanied by elderly grandparents who are unable to provide necessary support. On average, the ICRC has reported that 70 to 80 refugees per day visit their tracing department for information.

Around 3,500 refugees left Kukes yesterday for sites in the south of the country. The town of Kukes is full of refugees staying in collective centres and in tents. UNHCR has requested NATO to assist in increasing the transportation capacity to the south to 5,000 refugees per day. The road from Kukes is deteriorating as a result of heavy rain and increased traffic.

FYR of Macedonia

New arrivals into the FYR of Macedonia climbed to 8,300 yesterday. They crossed at Blace, Jazince and Lojane. Most were taken to the new camp at Cegrane. Several refugees reported that a group of 40 women and children had been separated from their husbands and family members and forced to remain behind. The weather at the border areas has become increasingly hot and several refugees collapsed from heat exhaustion at the Blace border crossing.

Approximately 300 refugees who had spent the last three nights in the open, high up in the mountains near the border village of Straza, were allowed down to Rugince on Friday. The group, mainly women and children, say that as many as 500 other refugees remain in Straza. On Saturday morning, UNHCR and Médecins du Monde were allowed to distribute blankets and food they had delivered on Friday.

Overcrowding is prompting increased concern over the medical situation in the camps. Access to water for washing and toilet facilities is extremely limited due to the sheer numbers of refugees using them. No outbreaks of contagious disease have been reported, however, head lice and diarrhoea in children under 5 are reported to be affecting growing numbers of refugees. WHO is developing guidelines for the management of tuberculosis patients in the camps whose treatment has been interrupted by their flight.

During both Thursday and Friday nights, refugees at Cegrane camp had to sleep in the open as the camp population has swelled to 13,000. In order to accommodate the high number of arrivals, tents were set up as quickly as possible. Other facilities are not keeping pace, with only 72 latrines and 60 water taps currently available at the camp. UNHCR is trying to avoid taking more refugees to the site on Saturday as work on the site continues.

Republic of Montenegro

A convoy of relief items from UNHCR's warehouse in Belgrade is being dispatched to Podgorica and is expected to arrive early next week. In addition, Médecins du Monde has received a container of medical equipment and medicines, which will be delivered to local hospitals.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

Departures continued to decrease on Friday 30 April, with only 889 refugees evacuated on 7 flights to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Norway and Sweden. Flights to Austria, Belgium, France and the Netherlands are scheduled for today.

Severe overcrowding in the refugee camps in the FYR of Macedonia prompted UNHCR yesterday to urge non-European countries to start evacuating Kosovo refugees. In a letter addressed to the governments of Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand, the High Commissioner asked them to go ahead with plans to start evacuating Kosovo refugee camps in the Skopje area as soon as possible. She also asked European states to speed up their ongoing evacuations from the FYR of Macedonia.