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Kosovo Crisis Update


Kosovo Crisis Update

15 May 1999


A total of 15 people, all men, crossed the Morini border into Albania Friday. The numbers arriving dropped precipitously in the last two days with only one person entering on Thursday.

The new arrivals were from villages in Suva Reka who said they had been moving around in that area since leaving their homes in late March. They reported heavy fighting and shelling in the region in recent days and on Thursday Serbian authorities forced them towards Albania.

At one point they joined a much larger group of fleeing people, but again became separated. They were stopped several times and beaten by police, they said. They all bore marks of beatings, according to UNHCR field staff who interviewed them at the border. They said they were not aware of the reported NATO airstrike near Prizren and had not been stopped in their flight by any NATO activity.

A total of 5,545 people left Kukes yesterday for other parts of Albania, including more than 100 who went from the MSF camp and a tractor park in direct response to UNHCR's information campaign. As many as 2,000 "tractor people" who had previously agreed to form an organized UNHCR convoy also left spontaneously yesterday on 86 tractors for Lezhe. It appears that the information campaign is having at least some indirect success, despite the ongoing counter-campaign. UNHCR is continuing its information drive in the "Kukes two" camp today.

Nonetheless, the arrival of more than 12,000 refugees over a four-day period earlier in the week kept the transit facility at Kukes crammed with people. UNHCR has set up five Rubhall tents, or plastic warehouses, which increased the transit accommodation capacity to 2,500 people per night.

UNHCR and WFP continue to deliver around 23,000 loaves of bread every day to the refugee population in Kukes and surroundings. A mobile bakery has now been set up to produce the bread in the region, so that supplies of bread from nearby Elbassan can be reduced or terminated. Altogether around 1,000 metric tons of food was supplied to refugees in northern Albania during the week.

A UNHCR trucking fleet is delivering a steady stream of relief items to northern Albania, allowing UNHCR to make sure that every refugee has at least one blanket, that each family has at least one jerry can and one plastic sheet for every tractor.

The quality of water available in the camps in Kukes remains good, but UNHCR is looking into the possibility of increasing water supply for Kukes town in order to avoid problems in the summer when water demand goes up and the yield of springs feeding the current city water system drops. Water consumption in the seven Kukes camps, which have a combined population of 32,000, has now increased to 15 to 20 litres per person per day.

No major health problems have been reported in the region, but there are high levels of respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea. Aid workers are developing a hygiene promotion programme to counter the problem.

FYR of Macedonia

It was relatively quiet at the border on Friday, the ninth day since the influx into the FYR of Macedonian was reduced to a trickle on May 5. A total of 95 Kosovars entered the country, including 30 people who came by train to the Blace crossing from the Urosevac area in Kosovo.

Among the arrivals were 60 people who had been waiting since Thursday night to enter at the Tabanovce crossing, north of Kumanovo. Twenty of these people are reported to be refugees from Gnjilane area of Kosovo, while the remaining 40 are from Presovo in Serbia proper. The refugees were transported to Stankovac camps on Friday.

The new arrivals said many people in Kosovo are still anxious to leave, but are afraid that the border is closed or that only people with travel papers are allowed to enter the FYR of Macedonia. Some of the new arrivals were met by relatives who said they had paid large sums of money for the safe passage of their relatives through Kosovo to the border.

Arrivals have fallen from 11,000 on May 3 to just over 1,300 over the past nine days. Prior to the May 5 de facto closure of the border, Stankovac I had a total population of 29,500. Today, the figure has dropped to just over 18,000, thanks to the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme.

A second group of refugees was transferred from the FYR of Macedonia to Albania on Friday. 42 refugees from the Cegrane and Stenkovec I camps were taken by bus at their request to Albania, where they have relatives.

Still, preparations continue for the event of a new surge in arrivals to the FYR of Macedonia. The capacity at the newly established Cegrane camp has been expanded to include 820 new tents which stand ready for new refugees, while a further 860 are ready to be erected immediately in the event of a sudden new influx.

UNHCR staff in Skopje participated in the visit of U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton to the Stenkovec I camp. Mrs. Clinton was briefed by the UNHCR Emergency Co-ordinator and walked through the camp with a UNHCR field officer to visit refugees.

Republic of Montenegro

The steady stream of Kosovars into Montenegro continued this week with more than 500 arriving on Thursday.

UNHCR has reached agreement with officials of Montenegro to transport the displaced people from the border town of Rozaje to Ulcinj, because of a heavy military presence in the Rozaje area and fears for the security of the displaced persons.

Five buses with police escorts are to begin transporting the displaced from factories and tented facilities at Rozaje within the next several days.

UNHCR is looking into the possibility of increasing the capacity of Neptun camp in Ulcinj to 3,500, to accommodate some of the new arrivals. Site planners also have identified a new camp site opposite Pine Tree camp. This can hold 800 people. About 3,000 mattresses are being sent to the area.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

A total of 1,684 refugees departed on Friday under the humanitarian evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries. The departures included 170 to Austria, 266 to Canada, 158 to Denmark, 214 to Germany, 147 to Norway, 145 to Sweden, 104 to Turkey and 480 to the United States.

So far, more than 46,800 have departed under the programme in which UNHCR has received offers for 135,000 places in 39 countries.