Angola + 5 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: North Caucasus; Zambia/Angola; F.R. Yugoslavia; Sierra Leone

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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 left
Ron Redmond

1. North Caucasus

Fighting in and around Grozny is driving more and more people from their homes. On Thursday, more than 2,200 people crossed to Ingushetia. Most were coming back after briefly visiting northern Chechnya. But the group also included 450 people freshly displaced by fierce fighting in the Shatoy area south of Grozny. The main border crossing at Kavkaz is handling two way traffic in and out of Chechnya. Many people go to the north to check on their property and elderly and frail relatives who had been to weak to flee. Some told UNHCR after visiting Russian controlled parts of Chechnya that they were afraid to go back there. The constant two way movement across the border makes it virtually impossible to determine how many people have gone back to Chechnya to stay and how many remain in Ingushetia.

Harsh winter conditions, meanwhile, have made the lives of the displaced in Ingushetia more miserable, especially in spontaneous makeshift settlements and tented camps. While winterized tents and stoves keep the people relatively warm, the lack of water, baby food and medicine are widespread. Some 2,000 babies have been born over the last four months. There is acute need for baby clothes and diapers.

Some camps are totally infested with lice and scabies. The local 300 bed tuberculosis treatment clinic is full with 192 beds being taken by the displaced. Medical workers also report isolated cases of HIV.

2. Zambia

As fighting continues in southeastern Angola's Moxico Province, UNHCR and its partners are grappling with the logistical challenges of assisting refugees arriving in Zambia's neighboring Western province.

Since October, some 22,000 Angolan refugees have fled to Zambia and more are expected.

About 1,200 of the 5,000 refugees trapped by floods in the Kalabo area of Zambia have already been airlifted by UNHCR and WFP to Mongu and brought further inland to the refugee camp of Mayukwayukwa. This operation should be completed by Monday (31 January). Refugees remaining in Kalabo after the airlift will continue to be assisted in a reception center until transport by boat to Mayukwayukwa can be resumed.

Another 8,000 refugees who have arrived in Sijembela, to the south of Kalabo, remain of major concern because of their isolation and the difficulties in reaching them. A convoy transporting 46 MT of aid (food and non food items) is expected to arrive in Kalabo today.

A proposed camp site initially identified near Sioma, northeast of Sijembela, to receive new arrivals has been found unsuitable. Preparations are now underway for a new site located in Lukama, on the main road to Sijembela. This site should be able to absorb any additional influx.

Due to the major constraints imposed by the logistical difficulties in Western Province, additional donor support has been requested, particularly for vehicles and rehabilitation of the infrastructure in Western Province, but also in terms of food for WFP and medical supplies for UNICEF.

3. F.R. Yugoslavia

Following increasing violence in the Prizren area of southwestern Kosovo over the last months, some of it targeting members of the Goran ethnic group and other non-Albanian Muslims, several hundred new arrivals from the Prizren area have been recorded in the Novi Pazaar region of Yugoslavia in the first three weeks of this year, according to Serbian authorities and the Serbian Red Cross.

Although UNHCR cannot verify the exact number, some of the arrivals in Novi Pazaar told our staff that the Muslim Slav groups in Prizren are subject to violence and increasing pressures since December and feel that they have no future in an increasingly monoethnic Kosovo where they have almost no access to work. In one instance earlier this month, a Goran family of four was found brutally murdered in their Prizren.

According to Serbian figures, the numbers of recent arrivals include 584 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Gora area in the hills above Prizren and another 144 people from Prizren itself.

UNHCR and the Belgrade government's Commission on Refugees will start a registration of refugees and IDPs from Kosovo beginning in February. The registration will be undertaken by UNHCR and the Serbian Commission for Refugees and be monitored by officials from Swiss Disaster Relief. The registration will be financed by ECHO.

A registration last year in the Republic of Montenegro found some 30,000 refugees and IDPs from Kosovo there. Estimates of the number of refugees and IDPs in the Republic of Serbia from Kosovo range from 220,000 to well over 300,000.

4. New registration kit

UNHCR, with support from Microsoft, has deployed a new version of our computerized refugee registration field kit first used last summer during the Kosovo emergency.

In cooperation with the government of Senegal, Refugee Field Kit 2000 will be used in four cities across Senegal to register an estimated 5,000 refugees and asylum-seekers and to provide them with photo identification cards. As we saw in Kosovo, the loss of identification is often a major problem in refugee emergencies. Testing of the new version is set to begin in Senegal on Monday (January 31).

Refugee Field Kit 2000 has been developed with Microsoft, building on the technology solution we used in Kosovo. Using the valuable lessons learned from that project, and in accordance with UNHCR's specifications, the company's software development teams have worked to create version 2.0 of the system for the registration effort in Senegal. As they did in the Balkans, Microsoft volunteers will assist in training UNHCR staff in the field and help with on-site deployment of the kits. UNHCR has identified a number of additional countries that will also benefit from the system later this year.

Microsoft contributed $3.5 million for last summer's Kosovar Refugee Registration Project, not including volunteer staff time. Software development costs for version 2.0 of the Refugee Field Kit 2000 amounts to another $100,000, again not including volunteer staff time.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata has described the use of this technology to assist refugees in often remote and difficult places not normally associated with computing as a breakthrough and proof that we can make a difference in non-traditional ways.

For more information on this new system, you can contact Lawrence Fioretta at UNHCR (+41 22 739 8853) or Tiffany Steckler at Microsoft's Paris office (+33 1 46 35 10 02).

5. Note: Sierra Leone

UNHCR has now determined that there has been no massive spontaneous return of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea or Liberia as reported by some local NGOs earlier in the week. The UNHCR office in Liberia reports, however, that several refugees from the Sinje camp in the area of Vahun have been crossing the Mano River Bridge (the border crossing point at BO Waterside in Grand Cape Mount County) to their villages in Sierra Leone. Most of them say they go on assessment visits and take the opportunity to do some cleaning and other preparations, and subsequently return to Sinje.

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