Monday: UN staff in the field witnessed shelling, houses in flames, and thousands of people on the move in Kosovo. Tuesday: Representatives of international humanitarian agencies based in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia and Albania gathered in Geneva to coordinate a common strategic humanitarian response to the crisis in and around Kosovo. Wednesday (today): US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told BBC that the situation in Kosovo has reached an "extraordinarily dangerous phase." Tomorrow will be another day of suffering, unless...........?
1. INTER-AGENCY REGIONAL MEETING ON KOSOVO
1.1 Humanitarian Agencies Plan an Integrated Approach to the Crisis In And Around Kosovo. Representatives of international humanitarian agencies gathered in Geneva yesterday to review the UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Flash Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance Needs Related to the Kosovo Crisis which was launched in mid-June, and to develop an integrated inter-agency, inter-regional approach in responding to the humanitarian situation in and around Kosovo until the end of the year.
Recognising that the humanitarian actors may be drawn into a more difficult position as the conflict continues to deteriorate in Kosovo, caution was raised against humanitarian action becoming a fig leaf for stalemate in the political arena. Yet clearly, as the humanitarian imperative to respond to the Kosovo crisis increases by the day, the participants of the meeting agreed on a common humanitarian approach.
The meeting was convened jointly by UNHCR and OCHA. Participants included representatives from ICRC, IFRC, IOM, UNESCO, UNHCHR, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO.
1.2 Lack of Funding: Major Impediment. One common concern expressed by participating agencies was the lack of funding to cover the emergency needs in and around Kosovo. In response to the Flash Appeal launched on 17 June 1998 which requested some US$ 18 million, only US$ 5.5 million has been pledged to date. Donors are called upon to respond urgently, as tens of thousands of people are in need of assistance today.
2.1 UNHCR Visits Orahovac. A UNHCR team yesterday went on a visit to Orahovac, using the route through Malisevo. The objective was to check reports that IDPs were returning to Orahovac, as well as to assess the situation of Serb refugees from Croatia who remained in a collective center in the town. No problems were encountered at the four police check points along the route, with the police waving the team through without much hesitation.
Entering Orahovac, UNHCR saw some extensively damaged houses. However, the center of town was fairly undamaged, and many shops even had the merchandise still on the shelves, indicating that not much looting had taken place. Some destroyed and burnt-out houses, however, were seen in the center as well.
2.2 Mayor Calls on IDPs to Return to Orahovac. On 4 August, UNHCR staff met with the Mayor of Orahovac. The Mayor assured UNHCR that all those who had fled were now welcome to return in safety. He added, however, that those who had been active in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/UCK) "would be prosecuted." To the question on how people then would feel confident to return, the Mayor answered that "those with a clean conscience had nothing to fear."
The Mayor told UNHCR that 4,000 IDPs had returned to Orahovac. Local Albanians we spoke to confirmed the return process, putting the number at 2,000. UNHCR met one family of fifteen people who were returning on their tractor-trailer after an absence of two weeks. They told UNHCR that the women and children were returning permanently but the men did not feel it was safe to stay overnight yet. The six remaining Serb refugees from Croatia who remained in a collective center in Orahovac were safe and sound but complained about lack of food.
2.3 Malisevo: Empty of Inhabitants. In Malisevo - which appeared empty of inhabitants - two houses were on fire as a UNHCR team passed through at 12:30 hrs on 4 August. One of them was only 50 meters away from the police checkpoint. When the team returned at 16:45 along the same road, it could see ten houses burning in Malisevo and surrounding villages. There was a heavy police presence at all checkpoints. However, nobody seemed to take any notice of the burning houses, some of which had clearly been set on fire only some minutes earlier.
2.4 Vucitrn-Kosovo Mitrovica Road Unsafe. Another team of UNHCR attempted to reach Srbica on 4 August, in order to escort Serb refugees from Croatia to Pristina for resettlement interviews. The team took the road through Vucitrn - Kosovska Mitrovica. The team was stopped at the Shipol check point outside Kosovska Mitrovica, and the police advised not to continue since the road was unsafe. Fighting was reportedly going on down the road. Since the purpose of the trip was to escort refugees and not to make an assessment of the situation in the area, the team decided to take the advice and turned back.
The team then paid a visit to the Mother Theresa Society (MTS) in Vucitrn, where they were told that the IDP population of the town had more than doubled during the past week, with people fleeing mainly from the Drenica area. Many of the newcomers, especially children and elderly, were dehydrated due to the extremely hot weather. MTS requested immediate emergency assistance.
Summary of UNHCR Field Visits on 3 August:
Three UNHCR field teams were dispatched from Pristina on 3 August: (a) to assess the situation for IDPs reportedly in the area between Srbica and Glogovac; (b) to check upon the return movement to Ade village in Obilic; and (c) to escort refugees applying for resettlement from Pec to Pristina.
(a) TEAM I: Srbica-Glogovac Road. In the villages of Vrbovci and Ceres on the Glogovac-Srbica road, UNHCR saw 2,000-3,000 people who were staying in the forests or accommodated by villagers. Others were fleeing along the road towards the north, apparently heading for the safety of major towns like Kosovska Mitrovica and Vucitrn. There was a continuous movement of people on tractors, horse carts and in private vehicles. Most were women and children, but men were among the fleeing villagers as well. Houses were burning everywhere: in every village seen by the UNHCR team, houses were on fire. Shelling and gunfire could be heard in the distance, smoke was rising from the whole area to the west of the road.
(b) TEAM II: Returns to Ade
The UNHCR team was briefly stopped by police at the entrance to Ade village. However, after five minutes of discussion, the team was allowed to continue. The local commander, however, told UNHCR that he could not guarantee the security. In the village, the team met with returnees who told the team that 130 heads of families had returned. They were not staying overnight but coming during the day to repair their houses and tend gardens. Relations with the police were cordial, but gunfire had been heard the last two days. The returnees said that their women and children were still staying in their places of refuge and that they would not return until the police withdrew from the village. Also, electricity had not been reconnected to the village in spite of the promise by the authorities that this would be done promptly. Lack of electricity meant lack of running water, since the pumps are run by electrical power.
(c) TEAM III: Refugees Escorted From Pec. Seven Serb Refugees from Croatia were escorted from Pec to Pristina through Djakovica. The journey was uneventful. The refugees will be interviewed by UNHCR resettlement case workers in Pristina and then escorted back to Pec.
3.1 Republican Government of Montenegro Appeals for Countries Abroad to Accept Refugees from Kosovo. As the absorption capacity of the local communities in Montenegro is reaching its limits, the Republican Government of Montenegro announced on 31 July that they will start to make an effort to call on countries abroad to start accepting refugees from Kosovo. The Government also mentioned that while it has paid special attention to the problem of IDPs from Kosovo and in spite of the efforts being made by the Republican Commissariat for Displaced Persons, Montenegrin municipalities, UNHCR, Montenegrin Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies, political organizations and citizens of Montenegro, the activities aimed to provide proper care for the IDPs have not produced expected results. The announcement may be an indication of the frustration faced by the Montenegrin authorities in meeting the needs of the large influx of population, given lack of resources and means.
For information, please contact:
Mans Nyberg, UNHCR Pristina
Kaoruko Seki (OCHA), UNHCR Belgrade