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Kosovo Crisis Update


Kosovo Crisis Update

8 May 1999


More than 5,000 refugees arrived in Albania through the Morini crossing on Saturday and the influx was continuing at midday. They came in tractor-wagons from the Pec area in western Kosovo and repeated similar stories which previous arrivals had told of mass killings and attacks by Serbian troops using artillery to empty villages.

Arrivals through Morini on Friday totalled an estimated 900.

Also on Friday, UNHCR Special Envoy Dennis McNamara paid a flying visit to Kukes and announced that Albania would accept as many as one million refugees if necessary.

McNamara also said that the tented camps in Kukes, within easy artillery range of nearby Serbian positions, must be emptied as quickly as possible and all of the refugees moved to safer areas.

After high level discussions in the Albanian capital of Tirana and with local officials in Kukes McNamara said that "The Albanian government has agreed to take as many refugees as necessary, as many as one million people if that is what it takes."

"The Albanian government's gesture and decision is extremely important to the whole humanitarian effort at this time," McNamara said, especially given the fact that neighbouring Macedonia wants to shift as many of the Kosovar refugees there to other countries as soon as possible.

McNamara said the first 6,000 refugees would probably be moved from Macedonia to the Korce region of Albania within the next several days, with possibly tens of thousands of others to quickly follow.

Albania already hosts the bulk of the Kosovar refugees, around 400,000 compared with nearly 200,000 in Macedonia. Tirana has repeatedly said it welcomes refugees to stay in the country.

McNamara said the issue of security in the Kukes area was high on his agenda during his talks in Kukes and Tirana and that both the government and UNHCR had agreed "these tented camps should not be here. We are doing everything possible to persuade the people in the camps to leave as soon as possible."

"We are really going to press the refugees very firmly to move to other facilities in other parts of the country."

He added, "We won't close the tents on top of the refugees but we will use every method we can to persuade them to move. We are going to tell them that at a certain point, these camps will not be here. The services they currently enjoy will not be here. We do not want camps near military areas.

"The refugees should move immediately. They should not be here," he said.

McNamara also stressed UNHCR's difficult financial condition while trying to tackle one of the biggest and most complicated emergencies in its history. The agency, he said, faced an immediate shortfall of at least 40 million dollars as it tried to grapple with a still expanding emergency.

FYR of Macedonia

Only a handful of people crossed to Macedonia on Friday, including a heavily pregnant woman and a man with a Slovenian passport. For all practical purposes, all border crossings from Serbia to Macedonia are closed to Kosovo refugees. Those few who arrived say there may be up to 3,000 people stuck on the Serbian side of the border, including some 200-300 who came by train from Pristina Friday morning.

Meanwhile, at the Blace transit centre, UNHCR is hastily putting up tents and preparing the ground for a possible new influx.

On Thursday, Macedonian officials gave UNHCR assurances that refugees from Kosovo will be allowed into the country. This followed meetings in Skopje in which UNHCR said its staff late Wednesday witnessed an estimated 1,000 Kosovo refugees being prevented from entering the FYR of Macedonia. They were subsequently forced to go back to Kosovo.

UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme

Departures under the humanitarian evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia to third countries totalled 1,914 on Friday, including 103 to Austria, 242 to Canada, 112 to the Czech Republic, 162 to Denmark, 157 to Norway, 114 to Poland, 235 to Spain, 160 to Sweden, 222 to Turkey and 407 to the United States.

So far, 34,239 refugees have departed under the programme in which UNHCR has received offers for 135,000 places in 39 countries.