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UNHCR warns lack of funds could halt aid for Kosovo refugees

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Geneva, 11th May 1999 - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Tuesday that lack of funds could seriously set back efforts to help three-quarters of a million refugees from Kosovo.
UNHCR had appealed for $143 million for its Kosovo operations for the first 6 months of this year.This was part of a series of consolidated appeals issued by all UN agencies and the IOM. To date, UNHCR has received just $71 million, all of which has been spent. If significant resources are not announced immediately, UNHCR will not be able to make further essential commitments to assist the refugees.

Until 23 March, UNHCR operated within Kosovo, where it helped around 400,000 people, and in Montenegro, where thousands of displaced had fled. When the massive exodus from Kosovo began in late March, the focus of UNHCR's operations shifted to Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as well as Montenegro. Altogether, these areas today host 750,000 Kosovars.

"It has been just over six weeks since the terrible ethnic cleansing and forced expulsions began in Kosovo. Still, the tide of human misery continues. Day after day we see thousands of refugees arriving in appalling condition in the neighboring areas in one of the largest refugee flows Europe has seen this century," High Commissioner Sadako Ogata said.

"Over the past several weeks, trains from Kosovo have unloaded thousands of refugees and the procession of wagons carrying traumatised women and children to the borders continues," Mrs. Ogata said.

In only six weeks, around 780,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries. 36,000 have been evacuated to other parts of Europe, North America and Australia, but 423,000 remain in Albania, 241,000 in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 63,000 in Montenegro and 18,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Since the last days of March, UNHCR has fielded 307 staff to the region, including 126 expatriates. UNHCR has put into place a supply pipeline in which over $37 million has been invested. Five planes per week are bringing 2,000 tents into Skopje and Tirana; 160,000 blankets have been sent from Nairobi to Skopje; 40,000 kitchen sets have been delivered, 600 metric tons of soap are en route to the region; and 100 trucks are being loaded each week in various European countries with blankets, mattresses, hygienic parcels and other aid materials.

"The response by many donors - especially private donors - has been good, but we need to do more. We are providing only the most basic needs of the refugees and there is so far no end to the conflict in sight or to the human suffering," Mrs. Ogata said. "We are looking to our traditional donors to provide us with the financial means to cope with this emergency. I appeal in particular to countries in Europe and the European Commission. This is a European tragedy. It is essential that they bear a larger part of the burden."

UNHCR is working with European donors to reduce bureaucratic hurdles which have delayed contributions. But funds are needed now. While no one has died of starvation and no epidemics have broken out in the camps, conditions remain poor. Camps are crowded, sanitation facilities are very basic and garbage collection has to be stepped up to avoid outbreaks of disease in the summer heat. Water is being provided by tankers, a very expensive exercise. There are few recreation facilities for children and more schools need to be set up.

"Improving camp conditions as summer approaches is a top priority," Mrs. Ogata said. "But we also need to prepare for new refugee flows and to be ready to help refugees to return home as soon as that is possible. In the meantime, winter is only a few months away and we need to prepare for that too. Refugees cannot stay under flimsy canvas tents when winter comes."