UN Inter-Agency Update on Kosovo Situation Report 53

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 17 Aug 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
1. KOSOVO

1.1 Heavy Fighting In Western Kosovo. Various sources reported heavy fighting last week, in several villages located in Western Kosovo. While yet to be confirmed by independent sources, Belgrade media reported today that the Serbian police took control over the village of Junik yesterday. Junik is located to the west of the main road connecting Djakovica and Decane, less than 10 kms away from the Kosovo-Albania border. The village was allegedly one of the major strong holds of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK). The Serbian police has also reportedly brought under their control villages of Voksa, Lodja, Raosic, Istinic, Podrdje, Slup and Djocaj.

1.2 Tens of Thousands of People Reportedly Displaced Towards Southeast of Pec. As a result of intense fighting in several areas of Western Kosovo, tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the last few days. Diplomatic sources and international humanitarian agencies reported that many of these people had escaped towards southeast of Pec, to an area around Lodja. On 16 August, a team of UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies attempted to reach the area to provide relief to those affected by the recent clashes. The team was turned back, however, at a police checkpoint in the outskirts of Pec. Fighting was aparently still continuing at that time.

1.3 UNHCR Encounters Thousands of Displaced Persons. A UNHCR team on Sunday found an estimated 20,000 people scattered in groups of 100 to 200 over a four-kilometre stretch between Jablanica and Ljesane. An estimated 10,000 of these people were seen along the Pecka Bistrica River and down southwards, all the way towards Maznik. These people had no shelter, and found refuge in open fields and in the woods. The area is to the east of Djakovica-Pec road.

1.4 UNHCR Visits Suva Reka. On 10 August, a UNHCR field team visited the Suva Reka area to assess the situation of the displaced persons in the area, many of whom were reportedly staying in the forest. According to journalists, a large group of displaced persons had assembled in the village of Klavasarija just north of Studenac. The UNHCR team went through Prizren, turned off the main road at Pirane, passed through Mamusa and found themselves in a territory which was under the control of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK). After another half hour driving along relatively good roads (trucks can easily drive them), the team reached Klavasarija.

According to the local emergency council, 4,000 IDPs were staying in the village which had a local population of 850. In addition, 130 people were camping out in the forest since there simply was no more room in the village. In the village, people were seen living in dwellings of all kinds, even in unfinished buildings.

1.5 People in Constant Movement. Local sources claim that 15,000 IDPs were staying in the larger Suva Reka area. They were moving all the time, and it was difficult to keep track of their whereabouts. Some of them had returned to their homes. However, these were a small minority, and in any case, women and children remained in hiding.

1.6 No Picnic: Condition of Displaced Persons Deteriorating Rapidly. The situation of the IDPs in Klavasarija was deteriorating rapidly. The emergency council appealed for food aid, since the villagers simply could not feed the IDPs anymore, as there was only reserve food for one more week left in the village. Out in the forest, one man described how the situation was getting worse: This is really no Sunday picnic. We are surviving on what the village people can afford to give us, the water is unhealthy, there are snakes in the forest. These conditions were starting to affect the health of the children, with diarrhea and fever. The UNHCR team visited the clinic, where there were very little medicine and medical supplies left, certainly not enough for a population of 5,000.

The UNHCR team were the first internationals that had visited these IDPs. They were grateful for the visit, while at the same time they appealed for urgent humanitarian assistance and for international organisations to help them to return to their villages. They pointed out, however, that even when people have returned, they will be in need of assistance, since homes and crops have been destroyed.

1.7 Another UNHCR Team Visits Terez. Another UNHCR team visited Terez in Srbica municipality on 10 August, where the Mother Theresa Society (MTS), a local NGO run by Kosovo Albanians, reported 13,671 IDPs in the area. Most urgent needs were flour, salt, clothing, mattresses and blankets. Another group of 8,000 IDPs were reported to be in Vrbovce where there was an urgent need of drinking water. Humanitarian agencies in Pristina have been notified of the situation.

1.8 More Refugees Escorted for Resettlement. On 11 August, three refugees, one mother and two children, were escorted by a UNHCR Resettlement Team from a collective centre in Srbica to Pristina. These refugees were among those ethnic Serbs who fled during the previous war in the Former Yugoslavia, and are expected to be resettled in a third country shortly to start a new life.

1.9 Srbica Almost Empty / Kosovska Mitrovica Full of Pedestrians. On 11 August, the town of Srbica appeared empty, though a number of elderly persons and children were seen outdoors. Almost no activities were seen from the main road, and the stores, all of which were closed, had none or very little supplies on the shelves. The UNHCR team passed through Kosovska Mitrovica, where many villagers from Srbica were allegedly staying, and found the town to be relatively full of pedestrians. No problems were encountered at the three police checkpoints.

1.10 Mobile Police Checkpoints in Pristina. Several armed mobile police checkpoints have been encountered lately in Pristina after 22:00 hours. These mobile teams stop vehicles to check vehicle papers, ID cards, and other documents of the occupants. Caution and common sense is advised to preclude unnecessary trouble.

2. MONTENEGRO

GENERAL SITUATION

2.1 Increased Influx Due to Clashes in Western Kosovo. More displaced persons from Kosovo arrived into Montenegro last week, due to clashes in Western Kosovo. The level was less than expected, however, compared to the reported intensity of armed activity taking place in that area.

Statistics (as at 12 August)

Ministry of Interior :

new arrivals between 25/4 and 11/8/98: 27,837
estimated arrival between March and April 98: 2,500
estimated total arrival since March 98: 30,337

Montenegrin Red Cross:

registered caseload: 29,111

2.2 Accommodation Saturated in Plav. The Mayor of Plav has sent a request to the Republican Government to consider Plav as a transit town for the displaced persons, as no more rooms in houses were available and all the collective centres have become saturated with IDPs. Given the lack of capacity for the local towns to absorb the IDPs, the situation is considered critical by the municipal authorities.

According to the Montenegrin Red Cross, 6,817 IDPs were registered as in need of aid in Plav. This is approximately 35% of the total population of the town, which already suffers a high level of unemployment. In one hotel in Plav, 120 people had arrived in one day, while there were no additional rooms as the hotel was already hosting 600 displaced persons. The newly arrived were offered the lobby area, which was covered with mattresses.

2.3 Montenegrin Government Calls on Foreign Countries to Accept Refugees from Kosovo. Faced with serious lack of capacity to absorb and care for the displaced persons from Kosovo, authorities of the Montenegrin Government have intensified their efforts to find an alternative solution. As noted previously, the Commissioner for Displaced Persons confirmed that the Montenegrin government has decided to contact foreign countries, asking them to accept refugees from Kosovo. This decision denotes the difficulties faced by the Montenegrin authorities in responding to the steady influx of people from Kosovo. The Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro, however, confirmed to UNHCR that no changes in the open door policy for the IDPs were envisaged at this time. It appears that the authorities are starting to consider their Republic as a place of transit for those persons displaced by the conflict in Kosovo.

HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE

2.4 Food Distribution Continues. Distribution of WFP/ECHO donation (flour, oil, beans, HPB and milk powder) is ongoing. Distribution of the Italian donation (rice) started on 11 August. Two additional trucks (10 MT) have joined the fleet of 4 small trucks in order to increase the distribution capacity.

2.5 Non-Food Items. Blankets and mattresses are pre-positioned with the local Red Cross in the towns most affected by the influx of IDPs.

2.6 Health. While WHO and MSF have not noted any sharp increase in consumption of medicine as a result of the large influx of IDPs, the Minister of Health has requested UNHCR to cover the costs for drugs and other medical supplies, most likely as a preventive measure to prepare the international community for a more substantial participation in assistance programmes. Some cases of jaundice have been noted in Plav and the central health authorities have been notified.

2.7 Joint Assessment Mission. Joint missions by WFP, ECHO, IFRC, and UNHCR were conducted in Rozaje, Plav, and Ulcinj in order to monitor the distribution of aid. While some minor discrepancies such as double registration, and differences in the entitlement were noted, in general, the system was still coping satisfactorily with the increased caseload.

2.8 ICS Visits Montenegro to Look Into Roma Settlements. The Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS) completed a three day mission in Montenegro to assess the conditions of the Roma settlements in Podgorica and Niksic. A project proposal for social, educational and skills development programmes will be presented during the week.

2.9 World Vision To Open An Office in Podgorica. World Vision opened an office in Podgorica and will start an assessment of the IDPs situation in order to implement activities. World Vision will also assist the refugee caseload and the most vulnerable citizens.

2.10 Registration - Distribution Process Being Reviewed. The Commissioner for Displaced Persons confirmed that in the last three weeks, 28,000 registration cards had been dispatched to the municipalities. The first 4,000 forms have been entered in a computerized system. The process, however, has been relatively slow and is increasingly becoming a problem with the Montenegrin Red Cross, as the registration system is linked to distribution of aid. Without a card, IDPs are unable to receive food. Increasing the number of staff involved in the registration at municipal level will improve the situation. UNHCR has requested the Commissioner and the Montenegrin Red Cross to adopt a system where the new arrivals can obtain the food for the first time without a registration card.

3. NORTHERN ALBANIA

2-9 AUGUST 1998

GENERAL SITUATION

3.1 Relative Improvement in Security. The overall security situation in the Tropoje District has shown some improvements during the reporting period. Shooting has decreased particularly during the day time. Noticeable improvements have been observed in the response time of the Special Forces and the effort in monitoring the roads through the two established check points in Bajram Curri and Tropoje town.

3.2 UCK Presence Less Visible in Tropoje Town. Major positive development regarding the UCK presence in Tropoje town has been noticed. The school previously used by the fighters as a military barrack for rest and recreation of the soldiers has been emptied. The presence of uniformed men, and the selling of arms in the open market has decreased. UNHCR has been informed by the Government Plenipotentiary that the group had been relocated "somewhere else". The Padeshe border crossing however, is still being used by the UCK as their supply route.

UNHCR had consistently highlighted to the local government and the Government Plenipotentiary the concern and the dilemma faced by the international community in operating in an active military area.

STATISTICS AND REGISTRATION

3.3 Re-Registration Completed in Tropoje District. Re-registration of refugees from Kosovo in the Tropoje District was completed on 6 August. The exercise was conducted with no security problems. A few times, however, the Head of the Albanian Refugee Office was threatened and pressured by local Albanians to register (non-existent) refugees in the family. A refugee card has been issued to each person, as well as a ration card to each head of family. The registration was conducted house by house, in five days.

Town
Refugees
Families
Bajram Curri
3,029
411
Bujeu
0,423
059
Tropoje
1,674
221
Marghegaj
0,478
068
Fierze
0,258
036
Lugaj
0,182
029
Total:
6,044
826

(Average family: 7 persons)

3.4 New Influx of Refugees. Between 4 and 9 August 1998, 386 refugees (an average of 64 refugees per day) arrived in Tropoje district. The main entry points were, Qafa e Prushit (approximately 2 hours south from Bajram Curri), and the refugees originated mainly from Kosare, Batusa, Nec, Junik, Smonica, Stubla, Skivjane, Gjakova. (names in Albanian spelling)

PROTECTION/SOCIAL SERVICES

3.5 Eviction of Refugee Families Continue. Eviction of the refugee families by the host families continued throughout the reporting period, as an increasing number of host families could no longer accommodate refugee families who could not pay rent. UNHCR tried to accommodate these refugees in reasonable places whenever possible. Arrival of additional refugees continued, and the absorption capacity of the Tropoja District is coming to an end. Winter comes early in this region - snow usually falls in the beginning of October: a factor which is an additional concern to the international community.

3.6 Lack of Employment Opportunities for Refugees. The August food distribution continued, thus decreasing the tension amongst the refugee population for lack of assistance in this respect. With the lack of employment opportunities and control over commercial business by the local powerful families, the refugees have little hope of employment in this region. Their dependency on aid is increasing and their means of sustaining themselves are minimal. Refugees with relatives in third countries are unable to receive financial support due to the poor and inefficient local banking system.

3.7 Female Refugees Remain Vulnerable to Harassment. The vulnerability of the female refugee population in Tropoje district remained a serious (hidden) concern. In whispering tones during home visits and in talks with refugees during regular interviews, concerns were raised over the prevailing "armed culture" which remains a serious threat to refugee women. This is a difficult area to discuss openly, due to local cultural restrictions in approaching topics of this kind. Nevertheless, the fear persists, and UNHCR continues to approach this issue on a case-by-case basis.

3.8 Refugees Face Difficult Situation. Refugees arriving during this reporting period shared stories of atrocities, killings, properties burnt and looted by the FRY authorities. Traumatised refugees, particularly women, reported long and dangerous walks into the forests, often escaping shelling. Most of the time, groups of refugees remained in hiding for days with little or no food, awaiting the proper time to move at night. Families with children reported that the crying of their own babies and children increased the risk of being found and attacked. Some teenagers (15-16 years of age) who were interviewed reported that they had taken arms and ammunition across the border for the UCK.

HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE

3.9 Shelter. UNHCR continues to identify possible sites for use as collective accommodation. Some progress have been made in identifying additional buildings in Fierze.

3.10 Food and Non-Food Items. WFP and IFRC continue to distribute food to the refugees in Bajram Curri and Tropoje. The August food distribution is also coordinated with the Islamic Council , which will distribute in the rest of the communes hosting small groups of refugees. UNHCR, IFRC, and the Albanian Red Cross met on 7 August to agree on the next distribution of non-food items for the district.

3.11 Kukes and Has Districts. On 9 August, movement of 40 refugees moving from Bajram Curri to Kruma (Has District) was reported. UNHCR Kukes is monitoring the situation. Regular meetings are held with ECMM and OSCE in order to exchange information on the border situation.

For information, please contact:

Fernando del Mundo
Kaoruko Seki (OCHA)
UNHCR Pristina
Tel: (381) 38-321-09 or
UNHCR Belgrade
Tel: (381)11-344-2091