Angola + 5 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Kosovo, Tanzania, Zambia/Angola

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below
Ron Redmond

1. Kosovo Evaluation

Copies of the new Kosovo Evaluation are in the press room and it's also posted in its entirety on UNHCR's Website. There's a summary of conclusions and recommendations at the front of the book and UNHCR's brief response can be found in Appendix D at the back.

UNHCR commissioned the independent evaluation during the emergency last spring when some very valid concerns were raised about our initial response to the crisis. Critics alleged at the time that UNHCR was overwhelmed by the huge refugee influx - a contention that we did not dispute. Our goal now is to find out why and to ensure that we do better next time.

The evaluation examines only the initial 11-week period from late March until mid-June, when the bombing campaign ended and everyone began going home. As you'll see, the evaluation is critical in some crucial areas - particularly in examining our preparedness and response capacity. In response, UNHCR acknowledges it has to strengthen its strategic planning and leadership capacity and speed up its response in emergencies - or what's called 'surge capacity.'

In addition to singling out our own performance, we also asked the evaluators to take a broader perspective and examine the whole context under which we and others were working. That's because the Kosovo emergency was one of the most complex, politically-charged and high-profile operations in UNHCR's entire 50-year history. As the study notes: The size and speed of the outflow were extraordinary. It was also a very complex political and military environment involving the national interests of major powers and strong regional organizations. As a result, displacement became an important element in the overall diplomacy of war and many factors affecting UNHCR's performance were not under our control. But many things were, and we've already started taking steps to strengthen our emergency response.

In fact, the conclusions and recommendations made by this evaluation match many of our own internal criticisms and discussions which have emerged in a separate examination exercise that we began last spring and are continuing.

We're now completing new guidelines to improve our future performance in emergencies. These guidelines will serve as the basis for immediate reforms and cover a number of areas, including enhancing staff recruitment and emergency deployment; Intensive emergency training; strengthening risk assessment and contingency planning efforts in emergency-prone regions; revising emergency procedures, including streamlined chains of command; and strengthening reserves of emergency supplies.

2. Kosovo

Recent ethnic violence in northern Kosovo's divided city of Mitrovica has led to an exodus of ethnic Albanians from the city's Serb-populated northern half, deepening the division of the city along ethnic lines. More than 630 Albanians have formally registered with UNHCR since violence erupted in the city last week. But UNHCR believes the actual number of those who have fled is much higher, as most people leave quietly to join friends and family in other parts of Kosovo, without bothering to register with the UN. UNHCR staff on the ground say property vacated by fleeing Albanians is often looted and sometimes occupied by ethnic Serbs. A mere 4,500 ethnic Albanians remained in the northern districts of Mitrovica before the outbreak of violence last week. UNHCR fears that if the exodus continues northern Mitrovica will soon be emptied of its ethnic Albanian population. UNHCR estimates that half of the ethnic Albanian population of central Mitrovica have already left.

The string of violent incidents in Mitrovica last week had been sparked by a rocket-propelled grenade attack February 2 on a UNHCR bus carrying Kosovo Serbs. Two Serbs died in the attack and three others were injured. 7 Albanians were killed in subsequent violent retaliatory attacks in the Serb controlled north of Mitrovica.

3. Tanzania

The Kigoma area in Tanzania is experiencing a sporadic influx of Congolese refugees. On Tuesday (Feb. 8), a group of 111 Congolese arrived in Kigoma and reported that on February 5, rebels attacked the South Kivu village of Lulenge in an attempt to dislodge pro-government Maimai soldiers.

The refugees said rebels started to loot houses and tried to force men to join their forces. Since the beginning of this year, 1,300 Congolese have arrived in Tanzania, but the upsurge of fighting in south Kivu could bring a new influx of refugees.

The latest arrivals said many families had scattered in surrounding areas.

Compared with last month, the numbers of Burundian refugees arriving in Tanzania has slowed. In January, 23,000 Burundians crossed into Tanzania. So far this month, a few more than 3,000 people crossed the border.

Burundian authorities have reportedly begun dismantling 11 "regroupement" camps in the area of Bujumbura. But refugees arriving in Tanzania report continuing government attacks in villages in the southern area of Makamba. A substantial number of the new arrivals were young men who claimed they were specifically targeted by the soldiers.

4. Zambia

A fleet of 7 trucks and 4 tractors is currently working in extremely difficult conditions to take Angolan refugees from Sijembela to a new camp site in Nangweshi. So far, 800 have been moved. But an estimated 10,000 still remain in Sijembela. As yet unconfirmed reports say significant numbers of refugees are also crossing from Rivungu in Angola to Shangombo, but we have no independent verification. Another influx is expected further North, through Mwinilunga, following reports of military deployments near the Angolan town of Cazombo.

The total number of new arrivals from Angola since October has now reached 23,668 and more are expected.

5. Colombia

Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen is currently in Colombia on a five-day visit that underscores UNHCR's serious concerns over the magnitude of displacement in that country.

Over the past few days, Jessen-Petersen has met with President Pastrana, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Guillermo Fernandez de Soto; the Minister of National Defence, Luis Fernando Ramírez; and other officials, church leaders and displaced people.

All of these people expressed deep concern regarding the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Colombians. Estimates place the number at more than 800,000. Jessen-Petersen told those he met that UNHCR, as part of a wider UN interagency team, is committed to intensifying its efforts to help those who have been forcibly displaced by armed conflict.

Under a 1999 agreement with the Colombian Government, UNHCR is currently helping to strengthen the local capacity to deal with displacement. As part of that effort, we recently established two field offices - one in Barrancabermeja, an oil port on the Magdalena River, and the other in Apartadó, in the region of Urabá. A third office will be opened in Putumayo once the required conditions are in place. Among other things, we are also assisting in the design of a registration project for IDPs and in the implementation of the National Information System on Internal Displacement.

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