UN Inter-Agency Update on Kosovo Situation Report 49

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 31 Jul 1998
This report has been compiled by UNHCR with support from OCHA and with inputs from UN Agencies and other humanitarian organizations in FRY, FYROM and Albania
"(T)he situation in Kosovo is deteriorating..... I must emphasize that while UNHCR and its partners stand ready to continue to help the victims, firm political action is urgently needed to resolve the crisis."

Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 1998 Substantive Session of ECOSOC (New York, 28 July 1998)

1. KOSOVO

1.1 UNHCR Visits Malisevo. UNHCR visited Malisevo on 30 July, despite difficulty faced at the police check point in Orlate, past Lapsunik. As reported by the press and diplomats, the village of Malisevo appeared mostly deserted, although other humanitarian agencies have confirmed later that some civilians had remained in their homes. A large police presence was also seen.

1.2 500 Displaced Persons Found in the Woods. After a couple days of worrying and searching the whereabouts of upto 20,000 persons who were reported to have fled Malisevo in a matter of a day or two out of fear, the UNHCR team found a group of about 500 people in the woods north and west of Malisevo around Crnovrana during the trip to the area on 30 July. These people were in a desperate situation, huddled in families of up to 20 members, totally exposed, with only trees serving as their shelter. They had taken refuge in these woods for three to four days, without running water and with limited food supplies which they had brought with them when fleeing Malisevo. Many of the IDPs were women and children, and were afraid of going back to the village. The UNHCR team did not see anybody with arms among them.

1.3 Urgent Aid Delivery To Be Organised. UNHCR Pristina plans to organise an aid delivery to Crnovrana tomorrow, on 1 August. Relief items will include wheat flour, 500 family parcels and 1/2 tonnes of high protein biscuits for young children. These items are provided by such agencies as WFP, Doctors without Borders, and Mercy Corp, and the delivery will be coordinated and escorted by UNHCR. UNHCR also understands that there are thousands of displaced persons around Mamusa, and will likewise organise an aid delivery there.

1.4 Gross Violations of Human Rights Reported. As the conflict on the ground intensified considerably in the last two weeks, gross violations of human rights attributed to both sides were reported on a daily basis. The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received increasing reports of persons who have been arbitrarily detained by the Police for questioning for periods ranging from hours to several days. A growing number of persons have been reported as missing and are alleged to be in unacknowledged detention. The last two weeks also saw new, disturbing reports that armed Albanians had abducted a large number of civilians in connection with recent clashes. The fate and whereabouts of Serbian civilians and police officers abducted earlier by armed Albanians, believed to be the members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), remain unknown.

Working with international agencies, government sources, NGOs, and the media, OHCHR has been attempting to track reports of alleged missing persons against confirmed reports of arrests, abductions, casualties and deaths.

1.5 "Human Dimension" Deserves More Attention. OHCHR raised serious concerns in its bi-monthly report released on 27 July that despite calls from all corners to the "representatives of the international community" to take an active interest in the human rights of vulnerable people affected by the conflict in Kosovo, "there are very few persons monitoring human rights in Kosovo."

OHCHR has maintained its presence in Kosovo since March 1998 and continues to collect first-hand information on the human rights situation in the region, despite in a limited capacity. In mid July, OHCHR staff undertook field visits to areas around Obilic, Podujevo, Kosovoska Mitrovica, Decani, Pec and Prizren, where they met with local lawyers and human rights activists to follow up on alleged human rights violations, including cases of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and ill-treatment.

1.6 At Least 437 Killed, Over 244 Missing. According to the Humanitarian Law Centre, a local NGO, a total of 244 persons of all ethnic backgrounds went missing between January and end of July 1998. An additional five cases of missing families have been reported, but only the identity of the male head of family is known in these cases. During the same period, only 57 persons are known to the Centre to have been released.

On 30 July, VIP News quoted an article in the Nasa Borba which reported that the "Kosovo Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms" announced on 29 July that 437 ethnic Albanians had been killed and 208 wounded in Kosovo since January of this year. (Other sources have provided estimates of upto 400 ethnic Albanians and 130 Serbs missing, and assumed detained or abducted.)

1.7 UNICEF Delivers Assistance in Orahovac. UNICEF Pristina visited Orahovac on 29 July to assess the situation of women and children in the town. Although the fighting had stopped in the town, some shooting was still ongoing in surrounding villages. UNICEF heard of estimates that approximately 4,000 people, mainly women and children, were still hiding in their homes and basements in the town. Many electric installations had been broken and only some areas of Orahovac had electricity and water.

During the time of armed clashes, the primary health care centre was moved to another building, where only three remaining doctors, one of them pediatrician, continued providing health services to the population. The health workers managed to save the off-road vehicle provided by UNICEF for the outreach immunization services in the municipality. During the visit on 29 July, UNICEF provided the health centre with an essential drugs kit, containing medicines and oral rehydration salt, sufficient to cover needs of the population for three months.

1.8 Update on UNICEF's Aid Distribution. Since February 1998, UNICEF distributed the following emergency supplies in Kosovo:

  • 187 boxes of disposable diapers;
  • 768 litres of disinfectants for hospitals and health units;
  • 5,000 bars of soap;
  • 200 plastic water containers;
  • 200 packs of water purification tablets;
  • 1,500 baby hygiene kits;
  • 1,000 tubes of washing detergent;
  • 10 essential drugs kits (each covering needs of 10,000 persons for three months)
Following an improvement in accessibility, UNICEF together with the Institute of Public Health in Pristina and Prizren, will seek to ensure new supplies of vaccination and vaccination cards for displaced children.

2. MONTENEGRO

2.1 IDP Influx and Registration Continue. Registration of internally displaced persons from Kosovo continues to be conducted by the local trustees of the Commissioner for Displaced Persons in each municipality. The IDPs are viewed as citizens of FRY who had to move out of their place of residence due to the unstable security conditions. ID cards with a serial number is released by the Commissioner's trustees. Without an ID card, the IDPs are unable to collect aid at the local Red Cross branches nor to gain access to medical services free of charge. The IDPs are granted the same rights to assistance as the refugees from B/H and Croatia, and Montenegrin social cases.

Statistics by the Ministry of Interior

Estimated Arrivals in 3-4/1998: 2,500

New arrivals between 25/4 - 29/7/1998

Albanian: 14,015
Muslim: 3,756
Serb: 3,004
Montenegrin: 2,965
Others: 1,020

Total (25/4 - 29/7): 24,751

Total Estimated Arrival: 27,251

2.2 Material Assistance. In addition to the distribution of HDRs which were later replaced by WFP rations, basic material assistance (mattresses, blankets) to cover the needs of the new arrivals have been dispatched from the UNHCR warehouse to all the local Red Cross branches. Additional items, including bed sheets, towels, cooking sets, jerry cans have been provided to cover the most vulnerable categories. Sanitary napkins and soap have been widely distributed.

As reported earlier, the Albanian associations created in each town have filled the gap by providing coupons to the IDPs. These coupons can be used in shops. These associations have also covered travel expenses by sending taxis to the edge of mountainous paths in order to receive and transfer to town (Rozaje/Plav) the exhausted new arrivals coming on foot.

The government has provided 120 mts of flour, 10 mts of oil, 10 mts of sugar and 1.5 mts of milk powder in July, to cover the needs of 12,000 new arrivals. This donation has served to cover the critical needs before the arrival of other donations.

2.3 Health. WHO has delivered an emergency consignment (2 medical kits covering the needs of a population of 20,000 people for three months, and a surgical kit for 100 people for ten days). The towns of Rozaje and Plav have received the medical kits, and Podgorica hospital the surgical kit. Recently, the new Minister of Health sent a letter to UNHCR requesting to pay the bill for the costs of drugs delivered to IDPs. This is a new development as no payments were requested to IDPs in the past, due to the fact that the medical costs of citizens (and refugees) were covered by a special fund. This perhaps may be seen as a sign of erosion of the local resources, and could denote a new feeling towards the influx population.

2.4 More Accomodation Needed. Relatives and friends have opened their houses to a large number of families. Host families and the local communities are feeling the impact. The following data has been released by the Montenegrin Red Cross:

Rozaje:
local population: 23,400 IDPs: 4,005 (17%)

Plav:
local population: 19,400 IDPs: 6,132 (31%)

Ulcinj:
local population: 24,500 IDPs: 8,100 (33 %)

The constant question on how many more IDPs can be received in Montenegro is becoming highly rhetorical, given these figures. The situation is already beyond control, and an increasing number of IDPs are seeking accommodation in collective centres.

There are differences in the four affected municipalities:

(a) In Ulcinj, half of the IDP population are in a separate house (rented or owned by a host family). In general, there are many tourist facilities in Ulcinj and the question is more an economic one: "space is available but who will pay for its use?" On different occasions, UNHCR requested the authorities to present buildings for renovation. No proposals have been offered apart from the possibility of land for tents.

(b) In Rozaje, only relatives and friends have hosted the new influx, and the situation is very difficult. A factory opened by the authorities as a transit center, was closed after a few weeks by the owner. Now a school and a health center are hosting 60 IDPs. Another factory was given to the local refugee coordinator as a transit center. When SDR was ready to improve the sanitary facilities, the offer was then withdrawn. Two depleted buildings are now utilized to accommodate new arrivals. However, no confirmation from the local authorities has been received on their continued use in the future.

(c) In Plav, there are more than 650 IDPs in collective centers (3 hotels and a refugee settlement built in 1994). A factory has been offered for renovation. Here the boat is full (i.e. no more possibility to host privately). Empty houses of emigrants have been utilized generously. Two factories without electricity nor water connection have been offered for renovation. The offer has not been considered acceptable by SDR due to the lack of basic facilities.

(d) The large number of Roma in Podgorica (all hosted by other Roma families in shacks or barracks on the outskirts of Podgorica) have started to provoke resentful comments. UNHCR has responded to the emergency situation and to an appeal from the Commissioner's Office by providing 35 tents for this particular social group. A local Roma association is assisting the Red Cross in registering and delivering aid to the more than 1,500 Roma IDPs.

In Podgorica, the Commissioner has repeatedly been requested to intervene with the local municipal authorities in order to improve the sanitary conditions of the Roma settlement. Minor improvements have been obtained by the insistence of the local Roma association: a water connection with the aqueduct (2 taps) and the daily delivery of a truckload of fresh water. No toilets/latrines have been provided yet.

UNHCR has contacted an Italian NGO already operating in Roma camps in Italy. An assessment mission is scheduled for the first week of August to Podgorica and Niksic where an additional 500 Roma have been registered.

3. NORTHERN ALBANIA

(UNHCR Bajram Curri: 24-31 July 1998)

3.1 80 New Refugees Arrive. On 29 July, 80 new arrivals came across from Kosovo to the Albanian side. The majority of the refugees were women with small babies, as well as elderly persons. The refugees started crossing the border around 4 p.m. They came from the villages of Junik, Batushe, Koshare and Gjoncaj. Most of the refugees with small babies and the elderly were accommodated in Fierze commune, in a collective center and in empty apartments which have been arranged by UNHCR Bajram Curri.

3.2 Security Concerns Continue. Highway robbery is becoming more frequent and, in some cases, they are followed by shootings. Contraband and corruption continue to make headline news. While a government steering committee has been formed to debate these topics, they are yet to agree on the agenda.

3.3 Insecurity Prevails in Tropoje and Bajram Curri. Tropoje and Bajram Curri are still insecure. In addition, further incidents of firing from the Kosovo side of the border into Albania has been reported in the Has area. The Albanian Government is continuing its policy of constraint despite increasing domestic pressure for a more militant stand. OSCE and ECMM border monitoring missions confirm that the Albanian army has not in any way been involved in the conflict toddle. Separately, a number of people, who are allegedly deserters from the Yugoslav Army, are currently accommodated safely in Tirana.

3.4 UCK/KLA Appears Increasingly Organised. It is evident now that a large number of fighters are using the Tropoje district and the village as their training base. UCK/KLA also appear to have an influence on the ferry from Koman to Fierza, and vehicles with weapons are now openly loaded onto the ferry.

Several NGOs continue to consider withdrawing from the Tropoje district fearing that they are becoming a part of the conflict. As reported earlier, representatives of MSF Belgium, ECHO, Children's Aid Direct and Oxfam have "temporarily" withdrawn to Tirana.

3.5 More Vehicles Stolen. On 28 July 1998, two vehicles belonging to inter-national agencies were hi-jacked at gun point by masked men. One car belonged to a Swiss NGO which had just arrived on the previous day. The white Nissan patrol was taken in the main street close to the hospital by five men. The second vehicle was taken from ECMM, while waiting for a fuel fill-up next to a safe parking lot.

3.6 Further Security Measures Requested at the Central and Local Levels. A Note Verbale was sent by UNHCR to the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 27 July 1998, expressing concern about the security situation faced by the refugees and aid workers in northern Albania. The same issue was brought about in a meeting between UNHCR and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Local Government, emphasizing the inability of the international community to operate in an unsafe area. In addition, UNHCR Bajram Curri called an urgent meeting with the Chief of the Criminal Police and the representative of the central government.

On 30 July, the Government Committee on National Security was convened. The Ministers of Public Order, Defense, Foreign Affairs and the Chief of National Intelligence were also present. The Prime Minister ordered the specialised government structures to prepare a coordinated plan of action to fight criminality, arm smuggling and other criminal activities in the Northern part of the country. A Government decision was issued for this purpose, tasking these institution to act immediately.

3.7 Alternative Sites for Refugee Accommodation Continue to be Sought. In view of the current insecurity which threatens both the refugees and the international aid workers in the northern district of Tropoje and mindful of the coming winter, UNHCR in cooperation with the Albanian Office for Refugees, started searching alternative sites to relocate refugees. Three missions were organized for this purpose, namely in the districts of Durres, Shkoder and Burrel.

(a) In Shkodra, Caritas Albania has already prepared an accommodation centre for vulnerable groups which at present can accommodate between 300-500 refugees. Within the same area, another building which needs repairing is also under consideration. IRC has been tasked to carry out a preliminary plan of reconstruction.

(b) In Burrel, there are 11 State Reserve warehouses which are in good shape, requiring only minor work. Most important is the construction of hygienic facilities. This site can accommodate up to 5,000 refugees.

(c) In the Durres area, the refugee population is somewhat scattered. UNHCR and other agencies are planning to upgrade the common facilities, and increase the water/electricity supply capacity in villages where refugees are accommodated.

3.8 Official Re-registration of Refugees Starts. Official re-registration of the refugee caseload in the northern district of Tropoje started on 30 July, and is expected to last approximately 5 days. The re-registration is carried out by the Albanian Office for Refugees, while UNHCR is monitoring the process. Distribution of food and non-food-items continues to be on hold until official re-registration is finalized.

"Close links have always existed between conflicts and forced human displacement. In recent years, however, conflicts have been mostly of an internal nature, involving deeply divided communities sometimes at war with each other. This has caused outflows of population in which people of concern to my Office are mixed with armed persons, criminals, and others who are normally excluded from international protection. The crisis in the former Zaire is a dramatic example, but so may soon become the situation in Northern Albania."

Mrs. Sadako Ogata
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the 1998 Substantive Session of ECOSOC (New York, 28 July 1998)

For information, please contact:
Mans Nyberg or Kaoruko Seki
UNHCR Belgrade
Tel: (381)11-344-2091
Fax: (381)11-344-2947