Recent intensification of fighting in central Kosovo has affected the lives of women and children of all ethnic groups. While no organisation has been able to confirm the exact figures of displacement which continues to fluctuate on a daily, if not hourly basis, it is believed that well over 100,000 people are now displaced within Kosovo, with an additional 35,000 to 40,000 displaced elsewhere in Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania. In total, UNHCR estimates that the conflict in Kosovo has forced upto 150,000 to flee their homes. "The armed conflict must be stopped" said UNHCR's Special Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia, Nicholas Morris on Monday. Humanitarian agencies in Kosovo are struggling to find the whereabouts of the displaced civilians and ways of accessing them, as it is feared that thousands of people are hiding out of fear and panic, yet in need of urgent humanitarian aid.
1.1 Malisevo Unblocked by the Serbian Police. Malisevo, a village in central Kosovo which has been completely under the control of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) for over a month, has been unblocked yesterday evening by the Serbian police, according to both the Serbian, Kosovo Albanian, and the international media. No major fighting has been reported, as the KLA fighters and villagers, as well as the IDPs who had sheltered there, had already fled the village by the time the Serbian police had arrived.
Kosova Information Centre (QIK), close to the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), reported on 28 July, however, that the situation remained extremely volatile and dangerous. UNHCR tried to reach Malisevo on 29 July, but was unable to pass by either the Stimlje or Komorane routes.
1.2 More Civilians Flee. UNHCR has learned that the villagers and IDPs in Malisevo had fled to small villages around Malisevo and into the hills, as early as last Friday, out of panic and fear. These people are reportedly cut off from supplies including food and water. International aid agencies are struggling to find out where the civilians are located and how to access them, as it is feared that there are thousands of people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Several sources have indicated that thousands of IDPs are reported to have taken refuge in Mamusha between Orahovac and Prizren, in Nekovce, and in Mt. Berisha.
1.3 Serbian Refugee Settlement in Pristina Attacked by Grenade. After receiving a report yesterday from the local office of the Serbian Commissioner for Refugees that two grenades had been thrown to a collective centre in Pristina housing Serbian Refugees from Croatia, UNHCR Pristina visited the centre to conduct an assessment.
Serbian Refugees from Croatia in the affected building (school dormitory Grmjia) said that two hand grenades were thrown from the hill side towards the building, followed by two or three gun shots. One grenade exploded, breaking a window and making several holes in the wall. The second one did not explode, but dropped somewhere between the building and a larger main building. The unexploded grenade had already been removed by the time UNHCR had arrived. Two refugee families were in the building at the time of the incident, but remained uninjured.
The refugees expressed their fear to the UNHCR team, and pleaded for police deployment around the area. The total refugee population in the collective centre is around 130. The main building is normally shared between the refugees and local students. Currently, however, the building is occupied only by refugees, due to summer holidays. The police has investigated the incident yesterday.
1.4 Many Refugees Leave Srbica. On 28 July, UNHCR visited Srbica to assess the situation. No problem was faced in accessing the town, despite reports that another international organisation and the press were turned back at the first checkpoint earlier in the day. The town appeared largely empty of people, except for a number of villagers. Shops were empty or looted. There was a heavy presence of police in the town.
UNHCR found 16 refugees remaining in one collective centre. These refugees confirmed that the other collective centre at the Technical School was empty, saying that those who used to stay there have all left towards Kosovska Mitrovica and elsewhere due to insecurity in Srbica. Those who remained in Srbica said they heard shelling all around over the weekend, but said that Srbica itself was untouched. Bread was being provided by the police on a daily basis.
1.5 Some IDPS To Return to Obilic. Displaced persons who fled to Pristina during earlier clashes in and around the town of Belacevac in Obilic municipality have indicated their desire to return to Obilic. Local authorities were receptive to the idea of the return of IDPs, and UNHCR plans to escort these people back to their villages in the municipality. Subsequent aid delivery is planned on Thursday. According to the IDPs, approximately 1,000 of them wished to return to harvest crops, provided it was safe. Local authorities have been asked to ensure security. On 29 July, 200 returned as a first group.
2.1 New Arrivals Sharply Increase Again. A sharp increase in the number of displaced persons entering Montenegro from Kosovo has been reported between 24 and 27 July, amounting to over 2,000 persons during this period alone. According to figures provided by the Montenegrin Ministry of Interior, there are now as many IDPs from Kosovo in Montenegro as the number of refugees from Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia who fled the previous war in the Former Yugoslavia.
Statistics as at 28 July 1998
Refugees from B&H and Croatia : 26,000
(Ministry of Interior Figures)
arrival between April and June: 23,415
estimated arrival in March: 2,500
estimated total arrival: 25,915
(Montenegrin Red Cross Figure): 25,273
2.2 Displaced Persons Continue to Come From Pec and Decane. Most of the new arrivals were from villages in and around Pec and Decane where additional clashes had been reported. No arrivals have been reported this week from Orahovac or other areas recently under intense fighting in central Kosovo. Many of them had traveled through mountain paths to avoid Serbian checkpoints, where a number of IDPs have alleged that heavy bribes were being requested.
2.3 Assistance Caseload. The Montenegrin Red Cross has registered 25,273 IDPs in need of assistance. While some cases of double registration have been noted, there is also some number of people who have not yet been registered for various reasons. Registration by the Office of the Commissioner for Displaced Persons is progressing. However, concerns are raised over the slow pace of providing new ID cards to local registration offices, as IDPs are unable to collect their rations without an ID card. UNHCR Podgorica has installed a software in the Commissioner's Office to set up a data base system for the registration process. (The Ministry of Interior simply counts the new arrivals at the check points. The Office for the Commissioner is where the registration takes place.)
2.4 Accommodation Still A Problem. The collective centres in Plav and two transit centres in Rozaje have received more persons in need of accommodation. In total, over 700 IDPs are currently accommodated in collective centres. Renovation of two hotels in Plav has been completed by Swiss Disaster Relief (SDR), improving the sanitary facilities in the hotel. UNHCR is providing financial assistance to the Office for the Commissioner of Displaced Persons to provide running costs of the hotels.
2.5 Ethnic Albanian Community Extend Assistance to IDPs. The ethnic Albanian communities in Montenegro are providing coupons to new arrivals (25 DM to each family member excluding males over 18 years of age.) These coupons can be used in local shops for purchase of goods. Coordination of assistance to the displaced persons at the republic and local level is not yet fully operational, causing some tensions between the two. UNHCR has been fielding joint missions with the Office of the Commissioner for Displaced Persons to assist in filling the gap.
2.6 UNICEF and WHO Opens a Presence in Montenegro. UNICEF and WHO now have a "presence" in Montenegro sharing premises with UNHCR. A representative of ECHO is also in the same compound. Inter-agency coordination continues with NGOs as well.
3. NORTHERN ALBANIA
3.1 General Security Continues to Deteriorate in Tropoje District. The working environment in the Tropoje district remains difficult and complex. The following are examples of some incidents which have affected international aid agencies last week.
(a) On 23 July, a vehicle belonging to MSF Holland was hijacked at gun point on the road 20 minutes away from Bajram Curri. Two masked men in uniform with Kalashnikov rifles and a RPG-7 anti tank rocket stopped the car and ordered the team out. MSF has consequently closed their operation in Bajram Curri and relocated to Tirana.
(b) On 25 July, Italian nuns reported to UNHCR that in Fierze commune, where they were hosting 30 refugees in their convent compound, an 18-year old Albanian man entered the small centre and threatened the refugees with a Kalashnikov. The man forced the refugees to lay face down on the floor, and kept the group in that position for one hour, claiming that the land belonged to him, and that the refugees should leave. Later in the day, he was seen shooting into the air in the vicinity of the Franciscan convent. The refugees were extremely frightened, and despite UNHCR's visit and reassurances from the chief of the criminal police, they left the centre for Tirana early morning on 26 July.
(c) At 22:00 hours on 23 July, two armed men jumped out of a bush and started following a local WFP field assistant and an international member of the OSCE who was escorting the WFP staff home. Fortunately, nothing happened as they were close to the UNHCR residency and managed to enter the compound.
3.2 Police Asked to Strengthen Security Measures. Following these incidents, UNHCR Bajram Curri held an urgent meeting with the Chief of Criminal Police and a representative of the central government of Albania. UNHCR reiterated its concerns regarding security of refugees and aid workers in the district and stressed the importance of intensified security measures.
UNHCR is now informed that police presence will be increased around residences of international staff. 40 new special forces agents have arrived in Bajram Curri last week. Movements of all international vehicles will be reported to the police, who will remain on standby for any escort requests. In addition, UNHCR Bajram Curri is now in direct radio contact with the Government's Plenipotentiary.
3.3 Some International Aid Agencies Temporarily Leave Bajram Curri. In addition to Medecin Sans Frontieres, Children's Aid Direct, OXFAM, and the representative of ECHO have also temporarily withdrawn to Tirana. The withdrawal of these organisations is expected to send a strong message to the authorities. Meanwhile, UNHCR will continue to work in Bajram Curri. Border monitoring activities by UNHCR, however, will be discontinued. OSCE and ECMM will continue their regular monitoring activities.
3.4 Re-registration of Refugees to Start Again. The official re-registration of refugees from Kosovo is scheduled to start tomorrow, on 29 July, and last for approximately five days. All refugees will be issued with a ration card and an identity card. Local authorities now claim that the number of refugees in the Tropoje District has reached 15,000. International agencies, however, have not accepted this figure and are waiting for the results of the re-registration. Distribution of all food and non-food items have been suspended last week, pending these results.
3.5 Ten New Arrivals Reported. In the Haas and Kukes districts, 10 refugees arrived on 21 July and were assisted directly by UNHCR. The group crossed through FYR of Macedonia as they stated there was no open corridor on the border to Albania from Kosovo. The group came from Godele, in the commune of Djakovica. They are currently residing with host families in the commune of Golaj.
3.6 Refugee Interviews by UNHCR Continues. In depth interviews of refugee families approaching UNHCR continued last week. Some families reported that they were not getting enough mattresses or food. Additional home visits have also been carried out. The outcome of these visits suggested that a majority of remaining refugee families were living under poor social, economic, and hygienic conditions. Several families have also approached the office requesting assistance with relocation since they were not able to pay the rent anymore.
3.7 Mental and Physical Disorder Reported Among Some Refugees. It has been noted that a considerable number of the remaining refugees may also be experiencing some sort of mental or physical disorder. A local association for the disabled is being contacted. The capacity is weak and the association lacks funding. It has been, however, visiting the local families on a voluntary basis.
In a private hotel in Bajram Curri, there are some families who are living under poor sanitary conditions. UNHCR and WHO visited a group of 30 refugees who were accommodated in a school compound in Drume/Haas. They needed to be relocated before the schools open in September. In order to facilitate smooth relocation of the most vulnerable refugees, UNHCR visited possible sites in Shkodra. If relocation occurs, attempts should be made to keep family units together.
3.8 Activities for Refugee Children. Terre des Hommes and the Fransiscan Sisters in Tropoje are running programmes for pre-school children and their mothers. They are mobilising the children to clean the area and are at the same time promoting peace. The Catholic mission in Fierze is running play groups for children and handicraft groups for young girls and women. Refugee children and local children are mixing well, but they are growing up in an atmosphere where violence and arms are part of the daily life. AEP has received sport equipment and is seeking advice on possible ways to arrange activities. AEP also distributed donated cloths to the local population in Bajram Curri on 25 July.
3.9 Tracing and Message Exchange. The Albanian Red Cross continues to carry out the message exchange system in Bajram Curri. As reported earlier, the ICRC/Albanian Red Cross had to close down their office in the town of Tropoje due to the large presence of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) fighters.
3.10 WHO Says Health Condition of Refugees Satisfactory. WHO visited the Bajram Curri area last week. While WHO will not be establishing an office there, they will monitor the situation from Tirana through regular field visits. WHO also confirmed that the refugee health situation seemed satisfactory. Children's Aid Direct (CAD) finalised the delivery of drugs and medical equipment to all health clinics. They intend to monitor further distribution from Tirana through regular field trips.
3.11 Education for Refugee Children Discussed. Last week, UNICEF, UNHCR and the Albanian Vice Minister for Education met and discussed matters related to education for refugee children. It is estimated that 1,500 refugee children will attend school in the Tropoje district, bringing the total students in the district to 7,500 children.
4. FYR of MACEDONIA
(While the general situation in FYROM remains calm and quiet, following are some excerpts from recent press reports.)
4.1 Another Explosion in Kumanovo. Nova Makedonija reported in its front page on 27 July that another bomb exploded in the centre of Kumanovo last Friday, 24 July. No casualties were reported, while the explosion caused panic among the citizens.
4.2 Three Albanians Detained For Illegal Border Crossing. MIC News and Vecer reported on 27 July that on 25 July, the Macedonian border patrol near the Strezimir watchtower at the Macedonian-Albanian border had attempted to prevent a large group of Albanians trying to cross the border illegally. According to the FYROM Ministry of Defense, a group of Albanian citizens with 30 pack horses had attempted to cross the border from Albania. After some shooting, three Albanians were detained, while the rest of the group returned back to Albania.
For information, please contact:
Mans Nyberg or Kaoruko Seki