Albania + 5 more

USCR Special Report: Crisis in Kosovo 26 Nov 1999

The massive displacement of over 800,000 ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo in April 1999 was matched by an equally dramatic repatriation following the June agreement between the NATO Yugoslav governments. UNHCR is looking to close down the few camps still in operation in Macedonia, and only 3,700 refugees remain in Albania.

Since June, however, large numbers of ethnic Serbs and Roma have in turn been displaced, mostly into Serbia proper, Montenegro and Bosnia. Their return remains extremely unlikely in the present circumstances. A recent Kosovo population survey by the UN counted 97,000 Serbs (vs. 190,000 last year) and 73,000 Croats, Roma and other ethnic minorities (vs. 170,000), implying a total displacement out of the province of 190,000. This may in fact be a conservative number: the most recent UNHCR estimates put the newly displaced ethnic Serbs and Roma at 237,827 in Serbia proper and Montenegro.

In Serbia proper, which has already had to absorb half a million refugees from Croatia and Bosnia, the arrivals have made for an especially worrisome situation. The newcomers, half of whom are aged 16 or less, have often found themselves unwanted. 10,000 live in collective centers, as do 40,000 refugees from the previous conflicts. Worsening the plight of the displaced still further was the Belgrade government=C6s decision to limit school enrollment of children from these families to municipalities bordering the province.

In Montenegro, while the great majority of displaced Serbs have found their own accommodation, two large camps have been set up near Podgorica to host Kosovo Roma. Substantial further influx from Serbia is expected over the next few months, adding to the over 40,000 UNHCR says have already sought refuge in Montenegro. Mounting political tension between Serbia and Montenegro, including the blocking of certain trade flows, is beginning to seriously affect prospects for regional stabilization. It is also exposing at least one minority to new vulnerability: the Muslim population of the border Sandjak area.

As to Bosnia, according to the Red Cross, there remain, in the Federation, 13,000 refugees from Kosovo and 13,000 from Sandzak; and in Republika Srpska, 50,000 Serb refugees from the NATO campaign, including 40,000 who had originally fled Croatia.

The Kosovo crisis has resulted in a surge in the number of asylum applications to European countries in 1999: by June 30, applications by Yugoslav citizens represented one third of the year's total. In the second quarter there were 42,290 new Yugoslav applicants, 60 percent more than in the first three months. On the other hand, temporary protection schemes set up for Kosovars in various European countries have for the most part been terminated, and repatriation is underway.

The United States has set up a processing center in Timisoara (Romania) for the resettlement of up to 10,000 ethnic Serbs. The resettlement program is focused on certain particularly vulnerable groups, such as refugees from Bosnia and Croatia who had been living in collective centers in Kosovo.


International forensic teams are still amassing evidence of war crimes and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Serb forces in Kosovo. Furthermore, the Red Cross has located 2,000 ethnic Albanians currently in detention in Serbia, including 25 minors, 11 women, 200 wounded and 50 ill people, according to the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center.

However, the main concern currently is lingering violence against those ethnic Serbs and Roma who have remained in the province. International Criminal Tribunal prosecutors are monitoring possible "ethnic cleansing" carried out under the guise of spontaneous reprisals. The most recent UNHCR/OSCE assessment of the situation of ethnic minorities in Kosovo condemns the pervasive discrimination, harassment and intimidation of both non-Albanians and moderate Albanians.

Those minorities remaining in Kosovo have tended to congregate into ethnic enclaves, improving their security but compounding the displacement problem. There are only 600 Serbs left in the city of Pristina (3 percent of the pre-war population), and 10,000 in the municipality at large. Other large ethnic Serb communities can be found in Mitrovica town (12,000) and the municipalities of Zvecan (11,000), Lipljan (10,000) and Strpce (9,000). The largest concentration of Roma is in Urosevac town (4,000). Other minorities, such as the ethnic Turks, Muslim Slavs and Bosniaks of Kosovo, are also under pressure.

There have been several hundred murders since June 12, targeting to a disproportionate extent the elderly. A protracted face-off between the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities of Mitrovica epitomizes the dilemma faced by the international community, intent on promoting multi-ethnicity while ensuring the physical safety of minority groups. As of November 9, 1,717 officers from a projected international force of 3,000 had been deployed. Training of an indigenous multi-ethnic police force has also begun, not without trouble, and some 170 cadets have so far graduated. Two factors complicate the security situation in Kosovo: in cities, the virtual absence of job prospects for minorities; and everywhere, the problematic demobilization of KLA fighters. As a partial remedy to the latter, the UN has been encouraging the hiring of these men into community civil reconstruction efforts.


The recent UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for the Southeastern Europe Humanitarian Operations identified regional priorities for the deployment of the USD 660 million budget requested for 2000. In Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, the primary focus will be on tackling the lingering effects of this year=C6s refugee crisis. Bosnia and Croatia, relatively spared in this regard, must carry on the implementation of the post-Dayton program. Non-Kosovo Yugoslavia faces a particularly perplexing situation, combining the aftermath of this year=C6s conflict, post-Dayton follow-up and the continuing effects of sanctions and economic decline on the population at large.

In Kosovo, it is expected that food aid will be required until at least Spring 2000 in areas worst affected by the shortfall in wheat production. The World Food Program and Food for Peace feed some 900,000 Kosovars every day, and UNHCR estimates that 40 percent of villages suffer from inadequate water supply. One chilling legacy of the conflict is the contamination of well water by dumped bodies; cleaning operations are still underway, funded by international agencies.

Kosovo's urban population is particularly ill-prepared for the rigors of the cold season which is setting in. 500,000 Kosovars need accommodation assistance, and most houses will not be reconstructed by the time snow begins to fall. UNHCR, the European Union and USAID are focusing their collective effort on the delivery of shelter equipment: as of November 10, 33,977 of 57,100 kits had been distributed. The UN has also identified three groups as vulnerable and eligible for emergency financial support: households comprising elderly, single parents, and disabled family members.

The heavily damaged power grid is still under repair. And 551 school buildings have been, or are being, rehabilitated, and UNICEF is distributing 581 tents to ensure all Kosovo children have access to education.

USAID estimates that relief supplies flow into the province at a rate of 114 trucks a day. While Kosovo's deteriorating highways are saturated, the newly operational rail line and road bridge between Pristina and Peja should contribute to ease congestion. The scale of assistance notwithstanding, the province's more remote areas, which are said to have incurred the highest level of housing damage, are reportedly under-supplied. A more pervasive issue has been the lengthy delays -up to eight days- in the clearing vital relief goods at the Macedonian border. In the hope of precluding any strategy of non-cooperation, a new agreement has reportedly been reached with the Macedonian authorities to ensure that priority treatment be once again extended to emergency convoys over commercial traffic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken on a transitional role equivalent to that of a ministry of health. Hundreds of thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance scattered about the small province and neighboring northern Albania are a source of pressing danger. The UN reports that in spite of intensive awareness-raising efforts, 61 people have been killed and 255 injured since June 12. Furthermore, tuberculosis and respiratory infections are said to threaten, and WHO has expressed concern over the mental health consequences of the conflict, acutely affecting an estimated 4 percent of the population.

Infrastructural damage wrought by the bombing campaign has had a grave impact on civilian life in Serbia proper and Montenegro. Greatly deteriorated economic conditions sharpen the emergency: the UN estimates that the population of Serbia and Montenegro living under the poverty line may have reached 35 percent. The UN has launched a $69 million humanitarian assistance program in Serbia, although the organization admits that the monitoring of the aid flows must be improved to ensure accountability. Following alarming projections of energy and heat shortages, a UN special rapporteur has also warned of a "humanitarian disaster" lest sanctions on the country are eased. International donors have not reached agreement on relief to Serbia. However, the European Union did recently decide to lift sanctions on Montenegro and Kosovo, and also launched the "Energy for Democracy" heating oil program for two opposition-led municipalities, Nis and Pirot. As of November 26, the oil was still being held up at the border by Yugoslav authorities.

United Nations experts from the Balkans Task Force (BTF) have completed their assessment of the environmental impact of the conflict in various locations throughout Yugoslavia. They have singled out four "environmental hot-spots" in Serbia posing immediate threat to human health. The BTF report also calls upon NATO countries urgently to provide information on their alleged use of depleted uranium weapons during the bombing campaign.


A reported 335 aid agencies are present on the ground in Kosovo, mostly seeking to address the emergency needs of the population. But the international community has also established a unique, integrated apparatus of direct civil administration, UNMIK. Specific responsibility for humanitarian affairs, institution building and reconstruction is devolved to UNHCR, the OSCE and the European Union respectively. The objective is to work with the local political leaders to develop multi-ethnic institutions.

Recent UNMIK initiatives have included the creation of the Kosovo Bank Authority, a regulatory institution which eventually will be allowed to directly extend loans to the economy. Two Kosovo donors conferences have resulted in a total pledge in excess of USD 3 billion, one third of which has already been absorbed by emergency humanitarian spending. While the amount committed is globally sufficient to fulfill needs through the end of 2000, UNMIK itself, with a projected staff of 64,500, remains severely under-funded, according to its head Bernard Kouchner.

A lengthy reconstruction effort lies ahead for Kosovo: the World Bank has assessed the physical damage alone at USD 1.2 billion. But, as repeatedly emphasized by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the challenge is not only financial. Stability in Kosovo will crucially depend on the rebuilding of the legal system, and how effectively minority rights are upheld in the province. At least 42 judges have so far been appointed by the UN and are already at work. Discriminatory property laws have been repealed. And the OSCE will assist democratic capacity- building, with a view to holding elections in September 2000. Population registration is set to begin before year-end and last four to five months.

In the rest of Serbia, reconstruction aid does not seem to be forthcoming, given Belgrade's diplomatic isolation and persisting economic sanctions.

November 26, 1999

This update is compiled from organizational reports and the press.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees is a nonprofit, humanitarian organization that works for the protection and assistance of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people around the world.