The magnitude and complexity of the unfolding refugee crisis in the Balkans is hard to overstate. One and a half million people were forced to flee their homes in Kosovo earlier this year. These latest victims of Balkan conflict join the ranks of a further one and a half million other refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from earlier wars in Croatia and Bosnia.
Kosovo is a province lying in the south of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Before the conflict there were roughly 2 million people living in Kosovo. The country has historical and religious significance to both Serbs and the Albanians and conflicts have arisen over the rights to ownership of land.
Following the signing of a peace agreement between NATO and President Milosevic in June 1999 the Albanians returned to Kosovo, and the majority of the remaining Serbian population moved out. Security continues to be a major concern and firearms are not yet under full control in the province.
Oxfam re-opened its office in Pristina and begun to implement a rehabilitation programme aiming to build on the previous areas of expertise in disability rights, community development and gender, and incorporating a substantial component based on our emergency experience in the water, sanitation and public health sectors. There is also work to provide collective shelters and basic needs for the coming winter. This is now being implemented through a network of area offices to facilitate coverage during the winter and bring the programme closer to the communities with whom we work.
In order to address the increase in cases of Hepatitis the Health Promotion Team have implemented an education campaign and are working to provide water and sanitation in twelve municipalities including town water supply repair, well cleaning and water supply chlorination. 2,300 wells have so far been cleaned. At the start of the school year the Public Health Team concentrated on water and sanitation in schools and the distribution of public institution packs. Oxfam is aiming to assist with the rehabilitation of the education system in Kosovo by supporting teaching staff and rebuilding and repairing infrastructure.
As winter draws in warmth and shelter are a major priority in rural areas and Oxfam have distributed 1,000 family kits consisting of blankets, mattresses, clothes, stoves and kitchen utensils. They are distributing 35,000 coats and boots through partner organisations, particularly targeting vulnerable populations such as the Roma. Oxfam are also working to provide shelter in collective centres.
To address the specific needs of disabled people in Kosovo Oxfam has worked through partner organisations to open disability centres to identify, register people, collect data for needs assessments and do advocacy work on their behalf. Oxfam have been invited by the UN to participate in disability policy development for Kosovo.
UNHCR have requested that Oxfam participate in the evaluation of their response to the 1999 humanitarian crisis in Kosovo.
During the refugee crisis Oxfam worked in refugee camps and refugee affected villages in Macedonia and Albania to develop water systems and build latrines. Oxfam has continued to work with the residual refugee populations in camps, and with host families who need assistance.
The political situation in Albania is currently extremely unstable. Post emergency work here has focused on hygiene promotion work, and longer-term integrated rural water and sanitation programmes such as our involvement in the water and sanitation sector in Lushnje, one of the poorest and most needy areas in Europe. A year long rehabilitation programme in rural development is also being planned for the Shkoder, Korce and Lushnje areas.
In Macedonia, assessments are being carried out to explore how we may maintain involvement in and understanding of the country. Work is currently underway involving public health, disability programmes, community services and gender.
Cegrane and Stankovic 2 refugee camps are still inhabited. Oxfam is distributing second hand clothes to people living with host communities and has worked to winterise the Stankovic camp although both camps are set to close down shortly. Oxfam is managing the infrastructural component of about 22 Quick Impact Projects that will target water and sanitation needs in communities that support refugees as well as communities that hosted large numbers of refugees during the Balkans crisis.
More than 1 million people are reported displaced within the Former Republic of Yugoslavia as a result of NATO bombing, in addition to the earlier number of 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. The war has resulted in significant economic collapse, new unemployed people and fewer resources available to the old case load of refugees and the arrival of up to 150,000 more from Kosovo. It is predicted that 75% of households will be directly affected by severe electricity shortages this winter as, for example, 90% of Serbia's water supply is dependent on electricity.
Oxfam has developed an emergency response programme to assist with the short term shoring up of the water and sanitation infrastructure in partnership with local authorities, and the distribution of essential items for the coming winter such as stoves and coal. Workshops are being organised on health, hygiene promotion and disability awareness by Oxfam-trained community facilitators.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Since the end of the war in Bosnia, Oxfam has worked to create the conditions for resettlement of internally displaced people to the Drvar region, and the reconstruction of houses, livelihoods and socio-economic elements such as income-generation.
In response to the needs of the massive outflows of refugees from war-struck Kosovo to Albania and Macedonia earlier this year, the Oxfam GB Eastern Europe office in Sarajevo provided intensive support to the offices and programmes based in Albania and Macedonia. Al least another 20,000 refugees fled to Bosnia where Oxfam provided water and sanitation facilities at border crossings and at two transit camps with a planned capacity of up to 50,000 people. Contingency planning continues for potential influxes of refugees from Montenegro or the Sandjak region of Serbia.
With the break up of the USSR, the three independent states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia emerged in the south Caucasus, while the north, made up of ten federal states including Chechnya, remains part of the Russian Federation.
In 1991 Chechnya officially declared itself independent. In 1994 tensions erupted to a war that lasted two years, leaving 50,000 dead and creating 400,000 refugees. Despite negotiations no progress has been made between parties on the future status of Chechnya. Authorities in Grozny consider Chechnya independent while Moscow still considers it part of the Russian Federation. The war has destroyed infrastructure and brought economic collapse. Approximately 80% of the population are estimated to live below the poverty line.
August 1999 saw renewed hostilities between Russian Federation forces and Chechen fighters. In September, for the first time in three years, Russian forces began launching air and ground attacks in an attempt to oust Chechen fighters whom Russia accuse of a series of terrorist bombings in Russia that have left nearly 300 people dead. 170,000 refugees are reported to have fled into neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan, and those displaced within Chechnya are believed to number between 20 - 25,000. Ingushetia already suffers from poor infrastructure and a poor economy and shelter is already a major problem with people living in tents, wagons and dilapidated buildings. There is increasing concern about the situation as tens of thousands of people face the prospect of a winter without shelter.
Although the situation in Chechnya and surrounding countries continues to deteriorate there has been almost no international humanitarian response. Because of the serious risk to staff security the UN have decided not to open an office in Chechnya in the foreseeable future. Oxfam currently has no programme here, but has carried out a desk study to produce a humanitarian brief which will feed into discussions on possible Oxfam / inter-agency responses.