UNHCR Kosovo Crisis Update: 21 May 1999

Report
from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 21 May 1999


AT A GLANCE

  • UNHCR steps up planning for two eventualities: the return of the refugees and internally displaced, and for a winterization program, in case refugees have not been able to return before the onset of winter.
  • No arrivals are reported in Albania, but more than 2,700 refugees enter the FYR of Macedonia amid reports of continuing expulsions in Kosovo.
  • The airport of Thessaloniki (Greece) is used for the first time for departures under the humanitarian evacuation program.
  • The estimated number of refugees and displaced people in the region is 743,700, including 64,000 in Montenegro, 226,300 in the FYR of Macedonia and 433,400 in Albania.

Major Developments

RETURN

UNHCR has prepared a concept paper on the anticipated return to their homes in Kosovo of up to 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced people once conditions warrant this.

A document outlining a framework for return planning has been discussed with other U.N. agencies, and shared with donor countries and non-governmental organizations.

The paper says even if prospects for peace may appear remote, there is considerable diplomatic activity to find a solution and UNHCR and other concerned agencies must be ready to help in the return of people forced from their homes, when this becomes possible.

UNHCR has stressed repatriation will hinge on three essential conditions: effective security guarantees by the Yugoslav government for returnees and aid workers, withdrawal of military and paramilitary units responsible for atrocities and expulsions, and the deployment of an international military force to secure the civilian population and humanitarian operations.

WINTERIZATION

As attention is given to preparations for return, UNHCR and its partners must also be prepared to help refugees and displaced people who may still be in neighboring countries and areas throughout the winter. UNHCR's winterization program has gotten off the ground with the purchase of 15,000 winter-proof tents. Delivery of the tents is expected to begin in July.

UNHCR is looking at a whole range of essential projects which go beyond its traditional programs. These include road improvement, electrical and water services, among others.

Proposals for the setting-up of an "umbrella" body to oversee these diverse programs are being considered. Already, several organizations are moving ahead with winterization plans for Kosovars.

ALBANIA

No one came across the Morini border into Albania Thursday. Numbers of refugees arriving have dropped precipitously in the last eight days. Only 63 refugees arrived during that period, strongly suggesting that Serbian and Yugoslav authorities have effectively halted all but a trickle of people leaving.

A total of 1,355 people left Kukes for the south Thursday. Official government figures show that since the crisis began a total of 321,040 people have transited the Kukes area en route to other regions of Albania. The rest of the refugees in Albania have entered at other border crossings.

In another development, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday paid a two-hour visit to Kukes, the small mountainous town in the north of the country where the bulk of the refugees arriving in Albania have entered. He was accompanied by the President of Albania.

After meeting with U.N. and NGO personnel working in the area, the Secretary-General visited two of the tented camps in Kukes, which house around 30,000 refugees. There are an estimated 90,000 Kosovars living not only in the camps but also in collective centers and with host families in the Kukes area.

Mr. Annan visited clinics, recreational facilities, a food distribution center and met with several refugees, including a mother with a 3-week-old baby who had been wounded during her flight from Kosovo.

At a news briefing at the close of his visit, he reiterated the determination of the U.N. and international community to ensure that all the refugees eventually return to Kosovo.

In another development, UNHCR and UNICEF signed in Tirana on Wednesday an agreement to establish "child friendly spaces" in camps and communities hosting refugees in Albania. Help from the government and other UN agencies will be solicited in implementing the program which would look for areas where basic services, including recreational facilities and hygiene programs, could be made available to children and women.

FYR of MACEDONIA

More than 2,700 refugees arrived in the FYR of Macedonia on Thursday in the largest one-day influx since arrivals stopped on 5 May. All except 400 who entered through Jazince and Tabanovce came on a train from Pristina.

The train consisting of eight to 10 carriages reached the Blace border around noon and 25 buses took the refugees to Cegrane and Stenkovec camps. UNHCR has been expanding camp facilities following reports that thousands of Kosovars may head toward the FYR of Macedonia after hearing news broadcasts that the border is open.

The refugees who arrived yesterday mainly came from the Pristina-Urosevac area where they had gathered after leaving surrounding villages. A group from Kamena Glava in Urosevac said the town of about 5,000 people was hit by artillery fire on 6 April. The people then fled to the hills, but when they returned later they found that 90 percent of the houses had been destroyed in the shelling. They had been wandering since.

The refugees say very few Albanians are left in Urosevac, previously a vibrant commercial town that was home to around 50,000 Albanians and 5,000 Serbs. IDPs drift to the town from the surrounding villages to get on the train to the border, the arrivals say.

Arrivals recounted stories similar to those told by people who had fled earlier - of Serbian army and paramilitary mounting a campaign of terror and ethnic cleansing that included beating of civilians, stripping civilians of their money and valuables and burning houses.

One refugee said he was one of the 1,000 passengers on the train that was sent back on Monday 17 May after it reached the border. He succeeded in getting off Thursday on his second try to reach the FYR of Macedonia.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing effort to prepare for contingencies, the government has offered two new camp sites. One site, close to Cegrane camp, will have a capacity of 8,000 and can be extended to 11,000. The other is located east of Tetovo and will be able to hold 4,000 to 5,000 people.

MONTENEGRO

Arrivals in Montenegro slowed to a trickle with only 10 Kosovars entering on Thursday. Several hundred had been arriving daily in the past days, but tension has heightened after the Yugoslav army tightened control over the borders of Montenegro a week ago.

Also on Thursday, UNHCR transported 90 displaced people from Rozaje to Ulcinj in a continuing effort to move Kosovars there because of increased military activity.

HUMANITARIAN EVACUATION PROGRAM

In the first flight leaving via Greece under the humanitarian evacuation program, 374 refugees flew Thursday to Australia from Thessaloniki, as part of a plan to expand departure capacity, in view of the congestion of Skopje airport.

The refugees, mainly women, children and elderly, were transported in nine buses from camps in the FYR of Macedonia earlier Thursday. They took off for Australia later in the day.

A total of 2,110 refugees left for third countries under the program on Thursday, bringing the overall departures to date to 56,592.

In addition to the Australia-bound passengers, the others who departed Thursday from the FYR of Macedonia proceeded to Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland.

At least 39 countries have offered 135,000 places for the evacuation from the FYR of Macedonia, with priority accorded to the most vulnerable refugees, including those in need of special medical care and family reunification cases.

KOSOVO DISPLACEMENT STATISTICS

Information as at 21 May 1999, 06:00 GMT

Total recent displacement includes figures in Tables 1 and 2. It is emphasized that the totals in Table 1 in particular should be considered as estimates. Totals in Table 1 are rounded to the nearest hundred.

Note: Humanitarian Evacuation Program corrections today for Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden following information received from respective governments

Table 1: Daily Population Estimates (figures refer to displacement since March 1998)

Refugees/Displaced in:
Remarks
Total
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Republic of Montenegro)
  • Few reported arrivals 19 May
64,000
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Republic of Serbia)
  • No figures for displacement within Kosovo available
  • Yugoslav government report of 60,000 in Serbia unconfirmed
na
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  • Camp population: 75,900 (source: UNHCR Skopje, revised figure includes Neprosteno camp recount); arrivals 20 May: ca. 2,700; departures by air 20 May: 2,110 (see Table 2 below)
  • Registered host family population: 120,432 (source: Macedonian Red Cross)
  • Unregistered elsewhere: 30,000 (source: government)
226,300
Albania
  • No arrivals from Kosovo 20 May
433,400
Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Total comprises Kosovar refugees only
  • Also resulting from the Kosovo conflict: 21,000 from Sandzak, 30,750 Serb, Croatians and Montenegrins from FRY (source: government)
20,000
TOTAL

743,700

Table 2: Humanitarian evacuations of Kosovar refugees from the FYR of Macedonia from 5 April through 20 May 1999 (figures subject to daily verification)

Receiving Country
Arrivals
20 May
Total
Australia (from Greece)
377
1,627
Austria
157
3,064
Belgium
-
1,223
Canada
252
4,374
Croatia
-
188
Czech Republic (corrected 21 May)
-
824
Denmark
-
1,182
Finland (corrected 21 May)
-
958
France
-
3,506
Germany
190
12,421
Iceland
-
70
Ireland
149
449
Israel
-
106
Italy
393
2,478
Netherlands
150
2,164
Norway
146
4,361
Poland
-
1,049
Portugal
152
658
Romania
-
41
Slovakia
-
90
Slovenia
-
305
Spain
-
789
Sweden (corrected 21 May)
-
1,831
Switzerland
144
816
Turkey
-
7,475
United Kingdom
-
1,175
United States
-
3,368
TOTAL
2,110
56,592
Receiving country governments: please check the total for your country and notify any corrections to the UNHCR Kosovo Emergency Operations Cell:
Telephone: +41 22 739 8000
Fax: +41 22 739 7330
Email: hqemops@unhcr.ch

Table 3: Asylum applications lodged by citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during 1998 and 1999 (monthly provisional and annual figures) last updated: 6 May 1999

This table is now on a separate page to facilitate printing. Access it here

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