Albania + 4 more

Concept paper on a proposed framework for return of refugees and internally displaced persons to Kosovo

Originally published

(This paper has been prepared by UNHCR with input from IOM, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCHR, UNICEF, UNOCHA, WHO, WFP)

1.1 The escalation of violence in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the Province of Kosovo over the last fourteen months, and especially since late March 1999, has resulted in massive population movements within FRY and to the neighbouring countries of Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Today over 750,000 persons have fled Kosovo into neighbouring countries and several tens of thousands gone further afield. Meanwhile within Kosovo it is feared that over 600,000 may be displaced, while the whole population remaining in the Province could be in need of humanitarian assistance. As military operations and the forced displacement of civilians continue, the United Nations (UN) humanitarian agencies and other international humanitarian organisations are presently engaged in an emergency operation to provide protection and assistance to Kosovo refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

1.2 Even though the prospects for return appear remote in the present circumstances, diplomatic efforts to find a solution are re-doubling and UNHCR with its sister UN agencies and other relevant international humanitarian organisations must begin preparing for the time when return to Kosovo will become possible. While it is essential that UNHCR and the humanitarian community are ready to move ahead of and with the returning refugees, the guarantees for voluntary and safe repatriation must and will be upheld.

1.3 Section 2 below sets forth the objectives of the planning exercise. Section 3 provides the currently available planning figures and discusses the assumptions UNHCR believes must guide the planning process. Finally, Section 4 outlines the operational phases and activities related to facilitating the return of refugees and IDPs to Kosovo.


2.1 The overall objective of this planning exercise is to prepare for the return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs originally from Kosovo. Amongst essential protection standards to be ensured are that:

- Refugees and IDPs are able to make a free, voluntary and well-informed decision regarding repatriation or return;

- Refugees and IDPs who are not willing or able to return to Kosovo can continue to receive protection and necessary assistance;

- Return takes place under conditions of legal safety, physical security, material security and dignity;

- The basic humanitarian needs of returnees and other affected populations for protection and assistance are met;

- Returnees enjoy and may exercise their fundamental human rights without discrimination;

- New displacement is prevented through protection monitoring, reporting, intervention and related activities;

- Sustainable reintegration is achieved through the restoration of national protection mechanisms, reconstruction and reconciliation.


A. The Dimensions of Displacement

3.1 Planning for repatriation and return to Kosovo is hampered by the fact that the humanitarian tragedy is ongoing and the full dimensions it will ultimately assume are unknown. Since international humanitarian staff were evacuated, the UN has not been able to obtain comprehensive and verifiable information about the situation inside Kosovo. Since that time, over 750,000 people have fled Kosovo to The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania or further abroad, or to other areas of FRY. The registration of refugees in Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and of IDPs in Montenegro is currently underway and will provide an important base of information regarding the demographics of this population. The latest figures for refugees and IDPs from and within Kosovo are as follows:

Table 1: Kosovo Refugees and IDPs

(as of 11 May 1999)
FYR of Macedonia
FRY (Montenegro)
FRY (Serbia other than Kosovo)*
FRY (Kosovo) *
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Other Asylum Countries
* Neither figure is verified. Some estimates place the present number of IDPs in Kosovo as high as over 700,000.

3.2 The UN humanitarian system and other international humanitarian actors presently have no access to Kosovo and, consequently, no ability to estimate with confidence the number of persons displaced internally within the province. While complete census data is not available, according to the 1991 census the population of Kosovo was 1,956,196 persons, composed of 82 per cent ethnic Albanians (1.59 million); 10 per cent ethnic Serbs (200,000); and 8 per cent other groups. The available data indicates that approximately 895,000 ethnic Albanians have been displaced outside the borders of Kosovo. Unconfirmed reports from the FRY Government indicate that at least 60,000 ethnic Serb and other residents and refugees have departed from Kosovo and sought safety elsewhere in FRY, while others have reached Bosnia and Herzegovina. Based upon the best available data, therefore, the estimated number of persons remaining in Kosovo is between 700,000 and 800,000 of whom some over 600,000 may be internally displaced. Given the assumed level of destruction within Kosovo owing to the current violence, it could be estimated that the whole population as well as returning refugees and IDPs will be in need of humanitarian assistance.

B. The Operational Environment for Return

3.3 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that UNHCR support for repatriation and return to Kosovo will hinge on three essential conditions: (1) the FRY Government provides effective security guarantees for returnees and international humanitarian actors, (2) the military and paramilitary units responsible for suspected atrocities and forcible displacement of the civilian population are withdrawn, and (3) a robust international military force is deployed to provide a security framework for the civilian population and the humanitarian operation in Kosovo.

3.4 The establishment of contact and negotiation with refugee and IDP community leaders is also urgently required. Without this, UNHCR and its partners will not be acquainted with the plans of the refugees themselves for their own return, and the contingency planning for repatriation could fall far wide of the mark.

(1) Legal Framework

3.5 The establishment of a legal framework is normally a prerequisite for UNHCR to facilitate voluntary repatriation and return, as well as for its sister UN agencies to support such an operation. The framework would spell out basic principles and understandings, both in terms of legal guarantees and practical modalities. At a minimum there must be: (i) tripartite or multi-partite agreement between the responsible authority for Kosovo, the Governments of the asylum countries and UNHCR, establishing a commission for the promotion and oversight of voluntary repatriation; (ii) a memorandum of understanding between UNHCR and authority responsible for Kosovo providing for the treatment of returnees in conformity with international protection standards and establishing the practical modalities for the repatriation and reintegration operation; (iii) adequate amnesty legislation exempting individuals from criminal liability for their involvement in the conflict or flight from the country.

3.6 Repatriation and return to Kosovo may ultimately precede a final peace settlement between the conflicting parties, and the post-conflict period certainly may not be conducive to reaching agreements on such matters. Nevertheless, UNHCR and its sister UN agencies must restore official relationships with the FRY Government, and establish them with whatever new administration may govern Kosovo, adequate to ensure that clear understandings and commitments govern the return and reintegration process, as well as ensuring the status and facilities available to international humanitarian organisations operating in FRY.

(a) Protection

3.7 Voluntary repatriation constitutes the preferred durable solution for refugees. Nevertheless, repatriation must be conducted within generally accepted international protection principles. The agreement(s) on repatriation and return between UNHCR and the relevant national/local authorities must incorporate these well-known principles, provide for a full and adequate amnesty, be consistent with fundamental principles of international human rights, and establish the parameters for UNHCR’s residual protection responsibilities toward returnees and for monitoring the consequences of return. In addition, UNHCR must ensure that agreements related to the return and reintegration operation guarantee returnees and humanitarian workers freedom of movement, as well as UNHCR’s free and unhindered access to all refugees, IDPs and returnees. The legal framework for protection should also ensure that refugees and IDPs have access to detailed information on the advisability and feasibility of repatriation, and assurances regarding access to practical mechanisms for disseminating such information.

3.8 In the case of Kosovo, special measures would be necessary to ensure the re-admission of refugees and IDPs whose personal identity documents were confiscated, destroyed or lost.

3.9 As a complement to the amnesty which must be provided, UNHCR must obtain commitments that the FRY Government or other appropriate authority will provide full information and all relevant documentation regarding every case of arrest, detention or legal proceedings involving returnees and be afforded free access to returnees in detention. ICRC would also play its traditional role of visiting prisoners.

(b) Operations

3.10 UNHCR must be confident that its operations in FRY, as well as those of its sister UN agencies and other partners, are based upon a clear legal framework. To this end, UNHCR will need to confirm the continuing validity of its accord de siège with the FRY Government and conclude a separate MOU with the FRY government or other appropriate authority governing the return and reintegration operation in Kosovo, as well as other protection and assistance efforts in FRY for the over 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

3.11 The UN humanitarian agencies must insist upon the establishment of simple, transparent and rapid procedures governing such issues as the registration of NGOs; the issuance of visas to international staff members; the importation and registration of vehicles, equipment and supplies; the importation of VHF and HF radio equipment and the assignment of operating frequencies; the consignment and customs clearance of humanitarian assistance and relief items; exemption from taxes and import duties; the rental of office premises and the hiring of local staff members.

(2) Security

3.12 UNHCR, its sister UN agencies and other humanitarian actors on the ground in Kosovo will require a secure environment in Kosovo, both to carry out their programmes and to give potential returnees confidence in their own security during and after return. Given the nature of the conflict in Kosovo, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that the deployment of a strong international military presence is a prerequisite in this regard. The security arrangements must be comprehensive and provide both for military security and the maintenance of public order. The security response must include an effective police enforcement capability and authority. The longer-term solution should be to develop a sustainable local capacity for the maintenance of public order by facilitating the establishment of local police forces that are professional, well-trained and representative of the communities they serve.

3.13 Post-conflict security arrangements must address the risks posed by landmines, unexploded ordnance and, possibly, booby-traps. Demining and mine awareness activities targeting refugees and IDPs should ideally begin well before the actual return process is underway. As repatriation may proceed very quickly once a peacekeeping force is in place, however, these activities could start already and try to keep pace with the returns.

3.14 Whatever the nature of the repatriation, it is of the utmost importance that demilitarisation, disarmament and demobilisation occur at an early stage to improve the security situation in Kosovo.

(3) Interim Administrative Arrangements

3.15 The future structure of civilian authority and possible power-sharing arrangements affecting the administration of Kosovo are not yet known, but it is almost certain that there will be an interim administration. UNHCR and other UN agencies must now plan and prepare their roles, relationships and division of responsibilities with whatever transitional authority may be established.


4.1 The four operational phases for return and reintegration to Kosovo are fairly straightforward: (1) planning and preparation; (2) resumption of operations in Kosovo; (3) facilitating or promoting repatriation and return; and (4) ensuring sustainable reintegration. Given the uncertainty of future developments and the many unknown factors, it is not possible to predict when the operation may begin or to assign time-frames to each phase. However, it must be hoped that repatriation and return will begin in 1999, and therefore preparations must include planning for winter 1999/2000. The budgetary requirements for the return and reintegration of Kosovo refugees and IDPs are difficult to estimate at this stage, but indicative budgets are in the preparatory stage.

A. Phase One: Planning and Preliminary Steps

4.2 The UN humanitarian agencies would undertake early short visits to Kosovo to begin to assess the humanitarian situation and the extent of physical damage. At the same time inter-agency planning and preparation for return and reintegration is beginning, based upon the best available information.

(1) Inter-Agency Co-ordination

4.3 Planning and preparation for return to Kosovo will build on the inter-agency co-ordination mechanisms which were already operating in Kosovo and FRY as a whole, and are now already operating in Albania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. UNHCR will co-ordinate the forward planning exercise, in its capacity as lead UN humanitarian agency, with support from OCHA teams already operational in Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as well as UN Headquarters. Sector working groups composed of UN sister agencies and NGOs planning to operate in Kosovo will undertake preliminary contingency planning, with specific UN agencies taking the lead as appropriate.

4.4 A priority element of the planning for repatriation is the identification of staffing teams who will be alerted and ready to deploy inside Kosovo and the wider FRY. To benefit from their knowledge and experience the logical agency focal points for this exercise are staff members evacuated from FRY and Kosovo. Specific staffing tables are now under consideration.

4.5. Return planning will pay particular attention to logistics needs, including warehousing and transport, procurement of vehicles, communications equipment and key relief items. Stand-by arrangements for the secondment of personnel and government service packages are being reviewed, and will be updated and confirmed. Funding for the return and reintegration operation (as well as other unfunded requirements of the refugee programme in the neighbouring areas) would be requested through a Revised UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal.

4.6 Once the post-conflict arrangements for Kosovo are clarified, UNHCR and its sister UN agencies will establish effective liaison and co-ordination with any international military force and transitional administrative authority that may be established. The military and civilian components are likely to be given broad mandates and provided with substantial staffing and resources. They inevitably will become major political and security players in Kosovo and thus key partners for the UN humanitarian programme. In the event of the establishment of a UN mission (including political, peace-keeping and humanitarian components), it is likely that coordination arrangements will be adopted accordingly to improve the effectiveness of the UN’s response.

(2) Data Collection and Analysis

4.7 The registration of refugees and IDPs is underway in Albania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro. The registration will provide essential data regarding areas of origin and intended return. In the winter of 1998-99 UNHCR undertook a shelter survey in the then 19 conflict-affected municipalities of Kosovo. The report was widely circulated and was complemented by surveys of infrastructure and other damage undertaken by other agencies. Since then violence has escalated and destruction multiplied in all of FRY as well as Kosovo. The information available will have to be amplified by aerial and ground surveys of the level of destruction, especially of housing stock, which will have to be mapped and analysed.

(3) Agreement on the nature of the return plan

4.8 Broad and early commitment to principles and a common strategic vision for the repatriation operation should be agreed as soon as possible. UNHCR should undertake discussions with all the principal actors, including the Kosovo Albanian community leaders and political and military leadership, as well as the Governments of the countries of asylum as well as with the FRY government.

(4) Consolidation of the Legal Framework

4.9 Finally, the legal framework governing the activities of UNHCR in FRY and the specific protection aspects of repatriation and return must be in place as Phase One draws to a close and operations resume in Kosovo. The other UN humanitarian agencies, international organisations and NGOs should also clarify and confirm the legal basis for their operations in FRY at this stage, in order to avoid the disruption of assistance activities later.

B. Phase Two: Resumption of Operations in Kosovo

4.10 Humanitarian operations in Kosovo will resume when security conditions are acceptable and UNSECOORD has lifted the Phase V alert. Firm and reliable security guarantees from all relevant parties to the conflict will be necessary. The focus during the initial period following the resumption of operations will be upon responding to the emergency needs of IDPs and other affected populations in Kosovo, responding to the needs of the first returnees and laying the groundwork for the major return and reintegration operation to follow. Inter-agency planning must account for the fact that the first access to Kosovo and other areas of Serbia may be complete and sudden or limited and incremental.

(1) Stabilisation of IDPs and Affected Populations

4.11 The recent fighting has reportedly displaced large numbers of persons within Kosovo who are either unable or unwilling to seek protection outside the borders of the province. The IDPs in Kosovo may have been living out in the open in harsh conditions for several weeks and their condition is likely to be dire by the time relief reaches them. Upon the resumption of operations in Kosovo, the first priority must therefore be to provide life-saving assistance to IDPs and other affected persons to stabilise their situation. Humanitarian assistance will also be needed by persons directly affected by airstrikes elsewhere in the FRY.

(2) Assessment

4.12 UNHCR will provide overall co-ordination and take the lead in evaluating protection conditions and shelter and non-food relief requirements. Other UN agencies will coordinate the different sectors, in accordance with their specific expertise, while OCHA will support the coordination of efforts, the assessment of needs and identification of appropriate action, including practical requirements for re-establishing the presence of humanitarian organisations such as staffing, office-space, warehousing, accommodation, communications and logistics access. The assessment of the level of damage to the social and economic infrastructure will facilitate the gauging of the absorption of capacity of likely areas of return and assist projections regarding the rate of sustainable return and reintegration. From this would follow early contact and consultation with developmental agencies including bilateral donors, the European Union, the World Bank and IMF.

(3) Security and Logistics

4.13 The UN humanitarian agencies anticipate that the framework for security will be consolidated during Phase Two, including the deployment of an international security force for Kosovo. Provisional repairs to damaged bridges, roads, rail links and airports will also be necessary, pending longer-term reconstruction efforts. Reports from recently arrived refugees suggest that landmines have been placed in an indeterminate number of locations, but certainly along the FRY borders with Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Landmines must be cleared from key logistics routes and identified entry points, routes and destinations for the return movement.

4.14 Mine awareness campaigns targeting Kosovo refugees and IDPs would begin immediately and continue during return movements and the following months (and years). UNICEF, ICRC and some NGOs have experience and expertise in providing mine awareness campaigns.

(4) Humanitarian Infrastructure and Absorption Capacity

4.15 The infrastructure required to meet basic humanitarian needs and to manage an expanding operation must be in place by the conclusion of Phase Two. The humanitarian agencies would re-establish contact and cooperation with local NGOs and traditional mechanisms, in so far as they still exist and help to rebuild them. In advance of return if possible, and certainly keeping pace with it, UN agencies would urgently re-deploy international and local staff; recruit and train additional local staff; open and equip offices; and pre-position food, emergency shelter repair materials and other humanitarian relief items. The status of the supply pipeline must be regularly evaluated to avoid shortfalls in critical supplies, taking account of the projected rate of spontaneous and organised returns. UNHCR and its sister UN agencies will reopen and reinforce the previously existing Field Offices and satellite offices in Kosovo in order to meet the substantially increased need for both protection and assistance, including the deployment of staff with the technical expertise required to carry out assessments and to supervise rehabilitation projects.

4.16 The UN humanitarian agencies and other partners must initiate basic rehabilitation of infrastructure in the shelter, health, water, sanitation and education sectors in areas of return before the major return begins. Given the level of destruction to the housing stock, it will be necessary to make advance arrangements to prepare transit centres and temporary accommodation, including tents, where necessary.

4.17 It should also be remembered that for a decade Kosovo Albanians ran their own parallel structures. While the international community may guarantee a protectorate status for Kosovo and provide initial assistance for basic infrastructure, it should not try to replace the capacity of the Kosovo communities to create and implement their own recovery. The support of UNHCR and sister UN agencies must be undertaken in consultation with the Kosovo community, who should be assisted in rebuilding and recreating their own structures.

C. Phase Three: Facilitating Repatriation and Return

4.18 UNHCR will begin to facilitate repatriation and return movements only after being satisfied that all necessary preconditions have been met and that return can take place in conditions of safety and dignity. During the contingency planning process, the UN humanitarian agencies must take account of the potential for spontaneous returns, returns under pressure and refoulement, as well as the disruptive effects such movements could have on planning, preparatory activities and subsequent return movements.

(1) Activities in the Countries of Asylum

4.19 UNHCR-supported and facilitated repatriation and return should begin first in the neighbouring countries of Albania and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in FRY itself. The large-scale influx of refugees and IDPs has strained their social infrastructure, particularly that of Montenegro. For similar reasons, the repatriation of Kosovo refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina must also be a priority. In The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the continuing presence of large numbers of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo is seen as a threat to political stability. Little is known about the condition of the Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and ethnic Serb residents who may have fled Kosovo to other areas of Serbia due to the conflict.

(a) Information Campaign

4.20 UNHCR, in collaboration with its sister UN agencies and other parties, will develop a strategy and mechanism for providing refugees and IDPs with clear, objective and accurate information regarding the conditions in Kosovo, the precise nature of legal guarantees and UNHCR’s protection role, the human rights and humanitarian assistance activities aimed at supporting return and sustainable reintegration, the specific procedures for registration, re-admission and the time-frame for the return operation. Traditional UNHCR information strategies have included posters, leaflets, individual counselling, presentations at public or community meetings, newspaper and magazine articles, television and radio broadcasts, audio or video tapes, the establishment of refugee information committees and, more recently, use of the Internet. Refugee and IDP "go and see" visits are a necessary complement to information activities. The strategy must ensure that information reaches all relevant segments of the refugee and IDP populations in a "user friendly" form and, specifically, is tailored to the needs of refugee and IDP women.

4.21 As in the case of mine-awareness activities, mass media strategies may be necessary to reach refugees and IDPs dispersed among host families or in distant countries of asylum. The secondary beneficiaries of the information campaign will be Government officials, social service professionals and refugee advocates in the more distant countries of asylum. The information will assist them in establishing appropriate policies for Kosovo refugees and counselling them regarding repatriation.

4.22 The UN humanitarian agencies should view information sharing as a two-way process. In general, ethnic Albanian refugees and IDPs are highly motivated to return home. To gauge accurately attitudes toward return, however, regular and systematic surveys of the refugee and IDP communities will be necessary, including on such specific issues as humanitarian and security conditions in Kosovo, and the guarantees and arrangements for return. Such surveys will provide planning data regarding the expected rate of return and main destinations within Kosovo.

(b) Interviewing, Counselling and Registration

4.23 UNHCR will be responsible for organising procedures and mechanisms for interviewing, counselling and registering refugees and IDPs for repatriation or return. The procedures must account for the fact that many refugees and IDPs are dispersed among host families, rather than in camps. UNHCR will provide a Voluntary Repatriation Form (VRF) for use during this exercise in countries of asylum. The VRF serves the following purposes: (a) confirmation of the voluntary character of the repatriation or return, (b) travel document, and (c) temporary identification document upon return. The acceptance of the VRF as a basis for re-admission to FRY is particularly important, since many refugees fleeing Kosovo were reportedly forced to surrender their personal documentation when leaving FRY territory. UNHCR will also need to develop appropriate modalities for ensuring the voluntariness of return among IDPs within FRY.

4.24 UNHCR, with the support of local authorities and appropriate partners, will form, train and field teams to interview and counsel potential returnees regarding their decision to repatriate and to complete the VRF. The VRF will be standardised for use in all countries of asylum, with translations in English, Albanian and Serbian. Each VRF will be printed in three copies, numerated automatically during printing. The original will remain with the refugee or IDP after the interview with the Registration Clerk (who fills in the form) and signing of the declaration. One copy will go to UNHCR to be entered into a common database for tracking the operation and facilitating planning, and the final copy will remain with the host government authorities for the purpose of de-registration. All competent adult refugees and IDPs should complete the VRF and individually declare their willingness to repatriate voluntarily, in order to avoid coercion within family units.

(c) Tracing and Family Reunification

4.25 The ICRC has already initiated tracing and family reunification activities among the Kosovo refugee population. To facilitate family unity in repatriation, UNHCR and ICRC will collaborate in making the standard ICRC tracing request form available during the registration process to refugees and IDPs who wish to avail themselves of this opportunity to locate family members with whom they have lost contact when fleeing from Kosovo.

(d) Special Assistance to Vulnerable Groups

4.26 The registration process also provides a further opportunity to identify groups and individuals who may be vulnerable during or after return, including children, adolescents, women and elderly persons who are unaccompanied, physically and mentally challenged individuals and single parents with dependent children. The VRF will include a specific column to identify the special needs of individuals in each family unit, in order to ensure that particular attention is paid to each vulnerable individual. The inter-agency planning process must make budgetary provisions and plan projects, with the support of specialised NGOs, for meeting the needs of vulnerable groups.

(e) Pre-Departure Health Care

4.27 The objective of pre-departure health care will be to ensure that refugees and IDPs are fit to travel. Emphasis will also be placed upon preventive health care activities, such as immunisation and health education. Individuals suffering from chronic illness or conditions will receive a health card in English, Albanian and Serbian, in order to facilitate follow-up after return. UNHCR, in co-operation with WHO, UNICEF and IOM, will develop medical screening procedures and criteria. Medical escorts may be provided for at-risk persons, after ensuring that their continuing health care needs can be met in Kosovo following return.

(f) Support for Spontaneous Returns

4.28 Significant numbers of refugees and IDPs departed from Kosovo using their personal cars, tractors, horse carts and other means of transportation. Such individuals may seek to return spontaneously to Kosovo in the same manner. UNHCR will consider whether and, if so, when to support such spontaneous movements, for example, by providing fuel, fuel coupons or animal fodder at strategic locations along routes of return. If spontaneous returnees arrive in substantial numbers, however, they may overwhelm the humanitarian infrastructure and local capacities, which could result in operational chaos and unnecessary hardship for the returnees. The tendency toward spontaneous returns will be increased by the relative proximity of Kosovo to the major asylum countries.

(g) Organised Movements

4.29 UNHCR, along with IOM, has substantial experience in organising transportation during repatriation and return movements. The strategy for transportation might involve detailed planning, with returnees from the same area of origin within Kosovo travelling together in well-organised movements. Organisation of the movement would allow the humanitarian agencies to ensure that transit centres, pre-positioned supplies and the overall absorption capacity in a particular area are closely matched with the number of persons returning at each stage in the process. As noted above, massive uncoordinated returns can place unmanageable pressure on local resources and strain social harmony in local communities.

4.30 If conditions in Kosovo permit, a more fluid approach to the movement of returnees may be possible. In this regard, the inter-entity bus lines established by UNHCR in Bosnia and Herzegovina may provide a possible model. Under this approach, UNHCR would establish free bus service between the asylum countries and Montenegro and areas of potential return within Kosovo, using local transportation companies or through an appropriate international partner, such as IOM or the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). During the initial phases of the return operation, prospective returnees might be encouraged to take round-trip "go and see" excursions on the bus lines to assess conditions in Kosovo and the prospects for return in their areas of origin.

4.31 UNHCR will facilitate repatriation movements from asylum countries outside of the immediate region once pressures within the neighbouring countries and Montenegro have been relieved to a sufficient degree. IOM will play a major role in co-ordinating returns from more distant locations, in co-operation with UNHCR and the host governments. Among the refugees currently receiving protection outside the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania, UNHCR will consider giving priority to those who departed through the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme, as this scheme was conceived from the outset as a temporary burden-sharing arrangement.

(h) Security in Transit

4.32 The security of returning refugees and IDPs while in transit is the responsibility of the national authorities in the countries of asylum, transit and origin. UNHCR will work together with the relevant government agencies, including the civilian police, customs and border officials and, where appropriate, military authorities, to ensure that refugees and IDPs are not molested as they move through national territories and across borders. The personal security of women and vulnerable individuals in transit will be a particular focus of concern. Training and capacity-building efforts may be necessary to ensure that the officials at every level understand and are able to fulfil the commitments made by their government, as well as their personal responsibilities toward the repatriating refugees. UNHCR will monitor the movements and border crossings, providing escorts when required and support in case of logistics problems or other difficulties. A framework for responding to emergency medical needs will also be necessary. UNHCR and other partner agencies will require additional international and local staffing, vehicles and communications equipment on a temporary basis during the movement phase.

(i) Pre-Departure Assistance

4.33 Returning refugees and IDPs travelling in organised movements will receive a relief package to meet basic food and sanitary needs in transit and for the initial period following return. Special attention will be given to providing for the requirements of infants, small children and other individuals identified as having strict dietary requirements. UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF will consult on the composition of the pre-departure assistance package and decide jointly upon the implementation arrangements. Returnees will not receive any other repatriation assistance prior to departure. As currently envisioned, all other humanitarian relief items will be pre-positioned in Kosovo for distribution to returnees.

(j) Residual Caseload

4.34 The status of refugees and IDPs who opt not to repatriate will continue to be governed by the relevant principles of international protection. Vulnerable groups and individuals, for example, may be unable to return to Kosovo in the near term, due to the level of destruction and the lack of necessary social support. Severely traumatised individuals may be unwilling to return home, as well as persons who have individualised security or protection concerns. Where return is not realistic for the foreseeable future, UNHCR will need to ensure that such individuals have access to asylum procedures and, in due course, a durable solution through either local integration or resettlement in a third country. The residual caseload will continue to require essential humanitarian assistance, pending efforts to promote self-sufficiency.

(k) Reducing Care and Maintenance Activities

4.35 The return process will result in a concomitant scaling down of activities in Albania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and other countries where care and maintenance programmes are currently being implemented for Kosovo refugees. Individuals who register for repatriation will be de-registered, and no longer be eligible for, the care and maintenance programme in the country of asylum.

(l) Responding to the Local Impacts of Refugees

4.36 UNHCR will need to evaluate the impact on the environment and local communities in refugee-hosting areas, in collaboration with the relevant national authorities and development actors, and play a catalytic role in seeking support and funding for appropriate responses to rehabilitate and protect the environment.

(2) Arrival and Reintegration in Kosovo

4.37 The reception and reintegration of refugees and IDPs in Kosovo will undoubtedly require a large and well co-ordinated international humanitarian effort. The UN programme for Kosovo that was suspended at the end of March will provide a solid foundation for the post-conflict response. Co-ordination arrangements were well-established and the UN and other agencies present in Kosovo largely had a common vision regarding the humanitarian situation in the province and the appropriate strategies for bringing protection and relief to the affected populations. Many of the planned sector activities remain relevant, although the complexity of the environment, the level of need and the resource requirements have undoubtedly risen substantially over the intervening weeks.

4.38 UNHCR will continue to act as lead humanitarian agency and, with support from OCHA, provide overall co-ordination to the UN humanitarian programme in Kosovo. Based upon the previously existing co-ordination arrangements in Kosovo, the proposed division of lead and supporting responsibilities in each sector of activity is as follows:

Table 2: Proposed Division of Sectoral Responsibilities

UN Agencies
Key Partners
All agencies
All agencies
Transport of Returnees
ECHO, IRC, Kinderberg, PSF, MSF, Medair, MDM
Water & Sanitation
SCF, CAD, OXFAM, Centre for the Protection of Women and Children, Humanitarian Law Centre
Community Services
SCF, OXFAM, CAD, Centre for the Protection of Women and Children, MTS, HI, ICS, NRC, MCI, IFRC/YRC
Others to be determined.
(a) Protection and Human Rights

4.39 UNHCR is the lead agency for ensuring protection related to repatriation and return, although its responsibility for ensuring safety and dignity will not cease upon the arrival of returnees in Kosovo. Monitoring will cover both the immediate consequences of repatriation, such as the fulfilment of amnesties or guarantees provided by the Government and the general enjoyment by returnees of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal footing with their fellow citizens. Monitoring must also extend, of course, to other groups in the local population who may be at risk of forced displacement in the post-conflict environment.

4.40 To ensure that returnees and other persons of concern enjoy adequate protection, UNHCR will collaborate closely with ICRC, OHCHR, UNICEF and other agencies having a protection or human rights mandate. These agencies will work to re-establish and strengthen the previously existing framework for protection and human rights monitoring, reporting and intervention in FRY. Intervention strategies will be co-ordinated among the concerned agencies, with the co-operation of local or international actors that can most effectively bring pressure to bear and achieve positive results. The enhancement of the UN’s international protection and human rights monitoring, reporting and intervention capacity in Kosovo is only possible through the deployment of additional international and local staff, vehicles, communications equipment and other practical support.

4.41 Efforts to facilitate the return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs will be complicated by the confiscation of personal documentation from departing refugees and the reported destruction or removal of Kosovo’s public documents and records. The inability to prove identity can interfere with the re-admission of refugees at the border, and the absence of public records relating to birth, death, marriage and divorce, property ownership, education, employment, pension, insurance and past medical care, if true, will lead to great hardship and interfere with the reintegration of returnees on a stable basis. UNHCR and other concerned agencies will need to begin preparing strategies now for addressing the documentation issue as a matter of priority in the post-conflict period. Cumbersome bureaucratic procedures for retrieving documents and records must be eliminated, and special provisions will be necessary to address situations in which public registers have disappeared or been destroyed.

(b) Food

4.42 Returnees and other affected populations in Kosovo will require food assistance for a protracted period. The intensification of fighting interrupted the spring planting season and agricultural production in the province has presumably come to a complete standstill. Broader economic activity has also been disrupted, and the local market structure will be slow to recover, particularly if access to traditional markets elsewhere in FRY becomes more difficult in the post-conflict period. Nevertheless, the UN humanitarian programme must seek to stimulate and rely upon local resources whenever possible, in order to encourage revitalisation of the private sector and steps toward economic self-sufficiency.

4.43 In the meantime, WFP will be responsible for the procurement of basic food items (i.e., wheat flour, edible oils and pulses). The initial food needs of returnees may be met in part through the re-deployment of stocks in neighbouring asylum countries where needs will have decreased following the departure of refugees and IDPs. WFP will also organise the delivery of food items to the Extended Delivery Points (EDPs) identified jointly by WFP and UNHCR. Onward transport arrangements and final distributions will be the responsibility of UNHCR, in close co-operation with WFP, in accordance with the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. UNHCR will also provide fresh food for returnees accommodated in transit centres or collective accommodation pending return to their own homes. UNICEF will supply emergency food items to cover the needs of children under twenty-four months of age.

4.44 WFP and UNHCR will carry out an assessment of food needs at the earliest possible stage in the planning process. Traditional donors, such as USAID and ECHO, will be essential participants in this process. The involvement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in the food assessment will also be critical, in order to arrive at a common understanding of the needs and to effect a division of responsibilities among the agencies. The assessment will examine beneficiary levels, decide upon the composition of the "food basket" and will analyse the overall socio-economic situation and vulnerability factors, including consideration of gender issues. The assessment will also explore measures to ensure that food self-sufficiency is restored at the earliest possible juncture, possibly through "food for work" projects in Kosovo.

(c) Health, Education and Community Services

4.45 The UN humanitarian agencies anticipate that the damage to health and education structures in Kosovo is massive. WHO and UNICEF were already very active in Kosovo during 1998 and early 1999. In the post-conflict period, their programmes aimed at supporting returnees and affected populations will be much larger and more challenging. WHO and UNICEF will need to re-establish strong contacts with national and local health and education authorities and with the local population in FRY, in order to rebuild mutual trust and confidence in these vitally important sectors.

4.46 WHO and UNICEF will ensure that returnees have access to essential health services. WHO will co-ordinate post-emergency rehabilitation activities in the main areas of the health sector: public health surveillance, communicable diseases, mother and child health, mental health rehabilitation, nutrition, pharmaceutical supplies, medical equipment and the rehabilitation or reconstruction of health care structures. It will also link humanitarian assistance operations with global, inter-country and national programmes, in both technical and operational terms.

4.47 UNICEF will co-ordinate the deployment of mobile medical clinics, in co-operation with UNHCR, WHO and international and local NGOs. The mobile clinics will provide primary health care consultation and essential drugs to women and children in their communities. Special attention will be focused upon pregnant women, in order to ensure safe delivery and adequate ante- and neo-natal care. Returnees and affected local populations will benefit equally from these facilities. At the same time, UNICEF will support the basic rehabilitation and recovery of village health stations, co-ordinating the provision of prefabricated structures, furniture and equipment, as well as the rapid delivery of essential drugs, emergency health kits and basic medical materials. UNICEF assistance in Kosovo will focus upon building the capacity of the Mother Teresa Society and other local health-sector NGOs to provide complementary services, as well as the state primary health care system.

4.48 UNICEF will also launch a measles immunisation campaign targeting children between one and two years of age. Outreach vaccination teams will be fielded for this purpose with the aim of improving surveillance of infectious diseases. Full immunisation coverage will be ensured for the returnee population, in co-ordination with WHO. UNICEF will maintain adequate stocks of vaccines, syringes and needles for child immunisation in Kosovo, as well as cold chain equipment. Village health stations will be supplied with growth monitoring equipment, along with appropriate training in nutrition surveillance. More detailed requirements for meeting nutritional needs will be established, once an assessment of the nutritional status of children is possible.

4.49 UNHCR and WHO will support the efforts of local authorities to improve water and sanitation systems, which are likely to have been damaged in the conflict. Based upon the 1998 experience in Kosovo, health education programmes also need to be intensified in order to reach the public with messages regarding hygiene practices and the treatment of diarrhoeal diseases. These efforts will be supported through the distribution of water testing kits, oral hydration salts and collapsible water containers.

4.50 Ensuring rapid access and continuity in education will be a key priority in the period immediately following return. UNICEF will provide educational "school-in-a-box" kits, including both classroom and student supplies, in a phased approach aimed at enabling informal emergency education to reach children in affected districts. The available teachers will be identified and provided with an orientation on the use of the educational kits. The training of additional teachers will be organised as a matter of priority, due to the probable lack of qualified individuals. Adolescents between fourteen and eighteen years of age will be engaged at the community level in informal education through activity groups focusing on peace and tolerance education and participation in the delivery of health education messages, especially aimed at reproductive health issues. The latter effort will be carried out in co-ordination with UNFPA.

4.51 UNICEF will simultaneously initiate the process of rebuilding primary schools, including the reconstruction of buildings, provision of furniture and equipment and the installation of water systems and sanitation facilities. As co-ordinating agency for the education sector, UNICEF will provide guidelines on minimum standards for school rehabilitation to all partners involved and will aim at rehabilitating 50 primary schools during the first six months. UNICEF will support the education system established pursuant to the settlement of the conflict. As the agreed system may include more than one language as a medium of instruction, UNICEF anticipates that this process may involve additional preparation and consultations with the concerned communities.

4.52 The UN humanitarian agencies anticipate that the community services sector is paralysed in Kosovo. UNHCR will work with numerous NGOs to support community services activities, which are more important than ever in the post-conflict period. UNHCR will encourage the development of projects aimed at assisting the population to regain confidence and trust. Special attention will be given to assisting those groups who may have suffered the most during the conflict and its immediate aftermath, such as elderly persons, the disabled and children. The population as a whole will require support in adjusting and in strengthening their existing coping mechanisms. Individuals must be encouraged to re-establish their lives, within their own communities, avoiding the development of dependency on external support.

4.53 In the early post-conflict stages, UNICEF will focus upon providing psycho-social support to children in need of special protective measures and to women affected by the conflict, in close co-operation with international and local NGOs specialised in meeting community services need. UNICEF and UNHCR will also co-ordinate closely with ICRC and relevant international and local NGOs in assessing and addressing the needs of unaccompanied children.

(d) Relief and Shelter Rehabilitation

4.54 The Kosovo conflict had caused damage and destruction to a substantial proportion of the housing stock even before the recent intensification of hostilities. A housing survey was carried out in November and December 1998 by fourteen NGOs under the co-ordination of UNHCR. The survey concluded that 21 per cent of the 66,700 houses were totally destroyed and that another 28 per cent required medium to major repairs. The survey did not take account of the damage done during the renewed fighting in late December 1998 and since that time. The situation has clearly deteriorated significantly over the past several weeks, with the systematic destruction of houses in towns and villages across Kosovo, but the full scale of destruction is not yet known. UNHCR will provide basic emergency shelter materials, such as plastic sheeting and timber, to enable returnees and other affected populations to make emergency repairs to their homes. UNHCR’s shelter activities in Kosovo will continue to focus upon making one or two rooms habitable in each house, pending the initiation of major reconstruction activities.

4.55 Many Kosovo refugees and IDPs will have lost virtually all of their household goods to looting, vandalism or war damage during their flight to safety. Those arriving in neighbouring countries typically retained only a few meagre possessions. UNHCR will assist returnees and affected populations with a one-time relief package. The contents of the package have yet to be determined, but logically would include blankets, mattresses, a kitchen set and a stove. Some families may have received a similar package through the 1998 assistance programme. Although these items are durable, they will have been lost or destroyed in many cases and, thus, must be replaced. Other relief items will be distributed on a regular basis, particularly to the most vulnerable individuals. These will include hygiene materials, such as soap, washing powder and sanitary napkins. Fuel for heating and cooking will also be distributed during the winter months to those who lack the means or ability to provide it for themselves. UNHCR will also develop a support programme for households that host returnees and, thus, bear a significant additional burden.

4.56 UNHCR will pre-position relief supplies in Kosovo based upon an assessment of needs and the anticipated rate of return. Bulk procurement of this nature will require considerable advance funding. UNHCR will co-ordinate with the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, bilateral actors and other humanitarian organisations, in order to avoid overlap and to ensure that any gaps in assistance may be filled quickly.

4.57 FAO will lead and co-ordinate activities in the agriculture sector, in close co-operation with UNHCR. The spring planting season will already have passed by the end of April, so efforts to revitalise the agricultural sector will focus upon preparations for sowing winter wheat, a common crop in Kosovo. FAO and UNHCR will support this programme and mobilise funds for the procurement of seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, with a view toward getting local food production underway before the forthcoming winter. FAO will also provide technical co-ordination for the agricultural sector, ensuring that the activities and supplies provided by NGOs and other agencies are appropriate for the area concerned. A survey will be undertaken to assess the extent of damage to agricultural machinery and the possibilities for repairs, which will result in a programme for the provision of spare parts and tools for repairs.

4.58 FAO will also co-ordinate an assessment of livestock remaining in Kosovo and the availability of animal feed for the winter months. Where sufficient feed is available, the programme will encourage the rebuilding of stocks of livestock, in order to help improve the household diet. If not, animal feed will be provided to avoid any further depletion of livestock levels. Where the availability of animal feed is insufficient, activities in this sector will be limited to support for breeding chickens for the production of meat and eggs. Projects to support the re-establishment of larger livestock will otherwise be postponed until the following year.

(e) Multi-Sectoral Assistance and Support

4.59 The supply and distribution of humanitarian assistance will depend greatly upon the available transport and warehousing capacity in FRY and, particularly, in Kosovo. Bridges, roads, rail links and warehouses utilised in the past may no longer exist. UNHCR will co-ordinate an assessment to determine whether the previous logistics structure may be used and, if not, what alternatives are available. UNHCR will assist in the distribution of relief items received through various Governments and international NGOs. As indicated above, WFP will be responsible for transporting food to the EDPs and UNHCR will arrange and finance secondary transport and distribution. While there is a preference to rely upon local transport capacities, if possible, UNHCR may need to consider re-establishing a fleet of four-wheel drive trucks with international drivers. UNHCR will also provide escorts for relief convoys where this continues to be necessary.

D. Phase Four: Ensuring Sustainable Reintegration

4.60 Repatriation and return is only the first step in a long process leading toward the sustainable reintegration of Kosovo refugees and IDPs. In addition to the tremendous human cost of the conflict, the consequences of the Kosovo crisis for FRY and the broader region make it all the more important to ensure that return is sustainable. The broader challenges of restoring national protection, facilitating reconstruction and achieving reconciliation within FRY’s war-torn society begins once the refugees and IDPs arrive home. In many respects, the situation in FRY presents particular challenges in the effort to achieve sustainable reintegration.

4.61 Humanitarian assistance efforts must be implemented within a comprehensive and integrated strategic framework for reconstruction, or their impact will be short-lived. In the post-conflict period, the international community will face key decisions regarding the provision of long-term reconstruction and development assistance to FRY, which will have a substantial impact upon the prospects for the sustainable reintegration of returning Kosovo refugees and IDPs, not to mention the more than half a million refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Reconstruction efforts in FRY will require extraordinary international support. Meeting the security and material needs of returnees and war-affected populations, rehabilitating damage to FRY’s economic and social infrastructure and expanding production, trade, employment, education and social services are all expensive and long-term propositions. The involvement of major development actors at an early stage (including in the preparation phase) is essential to ensuring a smooth transition from a likely initial emergency phase to the consolidation of FRY social and economic infrastructure. The return of refugees to Kosovo might represent a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the development to become involved in post-war reconstruction from the very outset.

4.62 The UN humanitarian agencies must engage development actors and key donor governments to establish a shared strategic vision, consistency in approach and complementarity in activities during the post-conflict period. Co-ordination and planning for the eventual transition from emergency relief and humanitarian assistance activities to reconstruction and development, including capacity-building, should begin immediately upon the resumption of operations in Kosovo, if not during the return planning and preparation process. In February 1999, a Principals Group was established in Pristina, with UNHCR serving as chair and with the participation of the OSCE KVM Head of Mission, UN agency heads, ICRC and the NGO Executive Council, to begin developing such strategies. The Principals Group should reconvene and begin this work in earnest at the earliest possible opportunity.

4.63 The nature of the peace and the status of Kosovo (certainly an international protectorate but within what structure is still unknown) will heavily influence the sustainability of reintegration and the prospects for restoring national protection mechanisms. If there is to be lasting peace in the area, there must be reconciliation between the different ethnic groups, a formidable task given recent history and the devastating effects of the expulsion of the majority of the population.

4.64 Reconciliation must take place, but will be long and slow; it will need extraordinary effort to move forward, understanding and wisdom will have to prevail.

Strengthening the rule of law, respect for human rights and institutions for the administration of justice will require a substantial international commitment over a period of years to yield results. Notwithstanding its overriding concern with the stability of return to Kosovo, the task of fully restoring national protection, in all its dimensions, lies beyond the mandate and expertise of UNHCR or, for that matter, any other single agency. UNHCR will necessarily rely upon many other international and multilateral agencies in the effort to consolidate a constructive relationship between returnees, civil society and the state authorities within FRY.

4.65 Reconciliation is a crucial element of sustainable reintegration. The difficulty of fostering reconciliation after such harsh intercommunal violence cannot be underestimated. Nonetheless activities aimed at achieving this objective must begin early and be planned far into the future. The United Nations has increasingly focused upon supporting reconciliation in the context of complex peacekeeping and peace-building missions. Reconciliation occurs when the parties to a conflict develop a common understanding of the causes and nature of the conflict and shared notions of responsibility and justice. The prospects for developing such a shared vision, particularly among the politically-active population of FRY, appear to be very poor in the present circumstance. Interventions by UN humanitarian agencies and other relevant organisations aimed at conflict management and prevention will be vital in the early post-conflict phase. Ultimately, however, the FRY Government, Kosovo Albanian political and community leaders of all ethnic groups share the responsibility for promoting and facilitating reconciliation among the population. The UN humanitarian system must seek to engage responsible individuals in government and civil society in a dialogue on reconciliation, promote projects that provide communities with shared interests and objectives and facilitate the development of a national reconciliation plan, which may involve the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, truth commissions or other mechanisms for determining responsibility and implementing justice.