Afghanistan + 4 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Kenya, Afghanistan, North Caucasus, Kosovo(Yugoslavia)

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below left
Kris Janowski

1. Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR and partner agency staff put out a large fire in the Kakuma camp in north-west Kenya. Saturday's blaze - the fourth suspected arson attack in the camp since January - caused no injuries but it destroyed an entire block in the Somali portion of the camp, before volunteers were able to bring it under control. More than 700 family shelters have been destroyed and 4,000 people displaced in the incidents.

Kenyan police have determined that residents of the camp, housing 84,000 mainly Sudanese, Somali (about 20,000) and Ethiopian refugees, have set the fires, which have all occurred in Somali sections. UNHCR has put vehicles at the service of additional police units deployed to stop the arsonists, and more water equipment has been put in place for fire fighting. Extinguishing the fires has been made more difficult by the prolonged dry season and high winds.

Police have so far made six arrests in the Somali refugee community. UNHCR staff, concerned that tensions within the Somali community blamed for the acts could cause more fires, continue to meet with Somali elders. An additional fear is that a future blaze might spread to areas housing other refugee groups, further heightening tension in the mixed camp.

2. Northern Caucasus
Shelling and intense fighting in the mountainous south of Chechnya are driving more people from their homes. Over the past week, an estimated 1,400 freshly displaced people have arrived in Ingushetia.

The border between Chechnya and Ingushetia is busy with two-way traffic as people shuttle between camps in Ingushetia and their home villages in Chechnya. But over the past week, only some 100 people a day have been returning to Chechnya to stay. Widespread destruction in Chechnya, as well as reports of beatings, detention and rape are preventing a larger return and pushing out those who had already gone back. One man who recently returned to Chechnya and fled again alleged that he had to pay a bribe to be released from a military prison camp after four days of detention and daily beatings. Testimonies of detention and violence against returnees cannot be confirmed independently but they seem to form an alarming pattern. There are also complaints of violence against civilians by rebel forces.

On Monday, up to 60 people demonstrated at the main border crossing point in Ingushetia, demanding an end to hostilities in Chechnya and a deployment of international observers there.

This morning, UNHCR's 36th convoy reached Ingushetia's capital Nazran. Last week, we sent the first aid convoy to Chechnya itself. Currently UNHCR is assessing the feasibility of further aid convoys to Chechnya.

3. Afghanistan/Pakistan

The massive increase in opium production in Afghanistan, coupled with the growth in drug trafficking and drug abuse, has prompted the Afghan refugee community in Pakistan to launch an awareness campaign.

An exhibition titled "The Scourge of Narcotics" and designed by Afghan students opened at the American Centre in Islamabad yesterday (7 March). The exhibition, jointly sponsored by UNHCR and United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), features 87 posters painted by refugee women and children, which display the deadly effect of drug abuse and portray the agony it has inflicted on the community.

The posters were produced by the Educational and Artistic Consultative Association for Refugees (EACAR).

According to UNDCP, Afghanistan is not only the largest producer of opium but is also becoming a major manufacturer of heroin, which is contributing to a rise in addiction throughout the Southwest and Central Asia region. In 1998, Afghanistan produced 2,102 metric tonnes of dry opium. In 1999 production had risen to a record 5,070 tonnes - about 75% of the global yield.

While much of the raw opium is for export, a growing amount finds its way onto the local and regional market. The number of heroin addicts in the region exceeds that of Western Europe and is increasing, affecting the refugee community.

In Pakistan, UNDCP says New Akora refugee camp in the NorthWest Frontier Province is one such location where there is a demand for opium. The camp, which was established in 1996, hosts some 36,000 Afghan refugees. Most of the addicts found here are women.

4. Kosovo/Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

The number of ethnic Albanians leaving their homes in southern Serbia climbed sharply yesterday, when 626 people registered at UNHCR's field office in the eastern Kosovo town of Gnjilane. The new arrivals said they fled because of continuing tensions in southern Serbia, where an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 ethnic Albanians remain in areas around the towns of Presevo, Bujanovac and Mevedja, near the provincial border with Kosovo.

From January 26 through yesterday, a total of 1,658 ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia have registered as internally displaced with UNHCR in Gnjilane. But UNHCR believes the number could be much higher because many of the IDPs do not register. Many are believed to head to other parts of Kosovo, including Pristina, in search of shelter and employment. Since last summer, at least 6,000 ethnic Albanians are believed to have left southern Serbia - and that is a conservative estimate.

The latest arrivals reported they fled following firefights around the village of Dobrocin, where two Albanian woodcutters were killed on Jan. 26. More shooting incidents were reported Friday and over the weekend, they said.

On Sunday, 76 new arrivals registered in Gnjilane and reported that many more people would follow as soon as they felt it safe to do so. Yesterday, 626 registered.

There have been increasing reports of instability along the provincial border in recent weeks, including accounts from displaced Albanians of harassment and intimidation by Serb police and military in southern Serbia. At the same time, there are reports of an armed Albanian splinter group operating in the region.

In another development, UNHCR on Friday resumed operation of its bus route in the Gnjilane area and will resume today in Pristina. Altogether, we operated eight routes around Kosovo aimed at allowing freedom of movement for all ethnic groups. The bus operation was suspended Feb. 2 following a rocket attack on a vehicle near Mitrovica that killed two Serbs and wounded three others.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.