In the Spring of 1999, immediately after NATO bombardments of the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began, the FOCUS Humanitarian Relief Initiative was launched, as large scale humanitarian assistance conducted by traditional international humanitarian actors (UN agencies, the Red-Cross Movement, NGOs and government organisations) stopped in the Province of Kosovo and other parts of the FRY. The inititiative was launched on the suggestion of several European Foreign Ministers in order to provide humanitarian relief to all the victims of the conflict in the FRY.
FOCUS had five goals
The goals of FOCUS at that time were fivefold:
(1) To provide the victims of the conflict with emergency humanitarian relief.
(2) To establish a visible presence in the Province of Kosovo.
(3) To conduct assessment missions on the consequences of the conflict.
(4) To smooth the path for the return of the humanitarian community.
(5) To facilitate, through humanitarian activities, the search for peace.
A "Memorandum of Understanding" was then signed with the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the conditions and principles according to which FOCUS would conduct its humanitarian actions were defined. Accordingly, 2000 tons of relief goods were imported and distributed in the Province of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro both during and after the conflict. FOCUS offices were set up in Belgrade, Podgorica and Pristina and - after the cessation of bombardments - also in Nis. FOCUS assessment missions on the consequences of the conflict for public health, the environment, the ecology, heating and pharmaceutical care were conducted throughout the FRY and the results made available to the relevant international humanitarian aid agencies. Teams of FOCUS specialists conducted several environmental decontamination programmes in Pancevo, Pristina, Nis and Smederovo. Likewise, FOCUS experts conducted a series of humanitarian de-mining projects in the Province of Kosovo, under the leadership of UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo). Moreover, FOCUS ran a series of further humanitarian projects such as, for example the installation of heating systems for schools and hospitals. Through the FOCUS channel, nearly ten millions Swiss francs were devoted to humanitarian aid in the FRY.
In the autumn of last year, given the very considerable international humanitarian presence that had assembled in the Province of Kosovo, the FOCUS "Steering Group" decided to transfer its resources from the Province of Kosovo to Serbia and Montenegro. As FOCUS was conceived as an emergency operation, it was also decided to phase out FOCUS activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by the end of February 2000 and to hand over its programmes to other long-term agencies. However, individual FOCUS member countries are still implementing bilateral humanitarian projects in various parts of the FRY. These bilateral efforts, ranging over different areas where the needs are still great and international aid is limited, will continue in future.
Successful results and bilateral activities
At today's meeting, the members of the "Steering Group" reviewed the various aspects of FOCUS activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Individual member countries provided information on future bilateral projects. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) presented its forthcoming environmental plans for the region. The FOCUS Activities 1999 Report in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was discussed and is now available to the public. Bilateral meetings were also held today to discuss other issues of common interest.
While traditional humanitarian agencies were absent from the field, FOCUS has tried to set up a different way of providing humanitarian assistance to conflict-victims in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. These humanitarian activities were conducted in accordance with agreed humanitarian principles and in keeping with the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The efforts of the FOCUS Humanitarian Relief Initiative have produced positive results as well as a wealth of experience that could be useful if it ever again became necessary to co-operate in filling gaps in humanitarian aid in future.