22 June 1999
Crisis in Kosovo and situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography
Rapporteur: Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group
I. OVERVIEW OF THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
1. Since the commencement of air-strikes against military targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by NATO on 24 March 1999, which regrettably also caused civilian casualties, more than 780 000 people have been forcibly expelled from Kosovo. This figure has to be added to some 200 000 refugees who had already fled the province before the outbreak of hostilities.
2. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on 16 June the number of Kosovar Albanian refugees and displaced people in the region outside Kosovo stood at 779 700, including 69 700 in Montenegro, 243 700 in « the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia », 444 600 in Albania and 21 700 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. No confirmed figures were available for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Republic of Serbia). The Yugoslav government reports on 60 000 displaced people in Serbia.
3. Outside the region the number of Kosovo refugees having left « the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia » under the humanitarian evacuation programme of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) amounted to 85 400 on 16 June. UNHCR has received offers for 137 000 places in 40 countries and is currently reviewing the evacuation programme in the light of the new developments, in consultation with concerned governments. In the meantime, departures continue, but they are limited to the most vulnerable persons.
4. Within the province as many as 500 000 to 600 000 displaced people are believed to be in desperate conditions in the municipalities of Glogovac, Klina, Obilic, Orahovac, Podujevo, Srbica, Suva Reka and Vucitrn. These areas had been the scene of heavy fighting between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army during the past 16 months and there has been no assistance provided to the displaced population in the last two and a half months. According to the United Nations (UN) Inter-Agency Needs Assessment Mission that visited Kosovo last month, their situation is dramatic.
5. A new element is the number of Serbs who have left Kosovo after the conclusion of the peace agreement. By 17 June more than 30 000 Serbian civilians have moved into Montenegro and some of them headed on to Serbia proper. The number of Serbs who have left Kosovo and travelled directly into Serbia is not known. According to unconfirmed media reports they may number up to 80 000 people. Thus the refugee flow has been reversed giving rise to further concern about the humanitarian situation in the region. The UNHCR office in Belgrade hopes to be able soon to assess the situation.
6. In all, an estimated 1.5 million people from Kosovo have been displaced from their homes.
II. HUMANITARIAN AID AND PROSPECTS FOR RETURN
7. The conclusion of the agreement of 3 June 1999 was immediately followed by the launching of a massive humanitarian relief programme for Kosovo. Under the peace plan, UNHCR has the lead and coordinating role in the emergency assistance and repatriation movement. The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo will ensure conditions for a peaceful and normal life for all inhabitants in Kosovo.
8. The return plan initially focuses on urgent assistance to displaced people within Kosovo. The first multi-agency convoy was sent to Kosovo as soon as the security conditions were met i.e. on 13 June. At present two multi-agency convoys daily go to Kosovo from Skopje – the logistical hub for relief operations. KFOR has announced that, upon request from UNHCR, it will provide helicopters to support the distribution of aid to concentrations of internally displaced persons (IDPs). USAID is carrying out airdrops of humanitarian commodities over Kosovo.
9. The ICRC has distributed over 20 000 individual food parcels and around 100 tonnes of bulk food, together with blankets, baby parcels, kitchen sets, plastic sheeting and jerrycans to thousands of people all over Kosovo. ICRC teams have also started tracing action within Kosovo.
10. Humanitarian agencies have deployed in Kosovo along with the first contingent of the international security presence. UNHCR reopened its main office in Pristina, which it left on 23 March on the eve of the NATO strike, and is planning to establish 6 satellite offices as soon as the security situation permits. Other humanitarian agencies and NGOs have already returned or are returning to Kosovo.
11. Montenegrin officials have agreed to allow aid agencies to use Montenegro as a logistical base to provide relief supplies to Kosovo. The port of Bar provides excellent services for receiving, storing and moving onward relief goods either by train or truck to Kosovo. The Montenegro authorities also offer to allow passage for refugees returning from Albania to Kosovo, proposing Rozaje and Tuzi as stopover sites.
12. Detailed planning is underway within UNHCR and with its partners on the key sectors of shelter, food, logistics, health, and community services. A mass information campaign was launched in the asylum countries in an effort to provide the refugees with information about return and assistance as well as to raise awareness of the risks posed by landmines, unexploded ordnance and booby-traps.
13. For the time being major efforts still remain focused on delivering emergency assistance to Kosovars in the asylum countries and these will continue through the winter. Teams from the International Medical Corps, a non-governmental organisation, have been vaccinating children in the camps. UNICEF has also started a psycho-social counselling programme among refugees and launched a major effort to use teachers to provide essential mine awareness information for refugee schoolchildren. The maintenance of adequate security arrangements, registration procedures and winterisation activities still remain key priorities.
14. Displaced people within Kosovo have begun to return to their villages. Some returns had also been reported in Prizren even before Serbian troops had completed their withdrawal from the area.
15. Refugees are returning spontaneously from neighbouring countries despite UNHCR’s warnings not to do so until security forces clear routes of landmines. Approximately 50 000 people had returned by 17 June. In cooperation with UNHCR, CARE has established three of seven proposed way stations in Albania to assist returning refugees with food and other assistance as they travel north to Kosovo.
16. UNHCR believes that up to 500 000 refugees may return to Kosovo from Albania and « the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia » within three to four months. The first organised groups will head back shortly to their homes in villages and municipalities along the Kosovo border with « the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia », Albania and Montenegro. UNHCR will set up relief centres, or « pit stops », along the return route as its offices get organised and mobile teams are fielded in all the affected municipalities.
17. It is expected that at least 50 percent of the returnees will need transport assistance, while the others are likely to repatriate spontaneously in their tractor-trailers and cars. UNHCR believes that within the next three weeks, if security conditions are assured, large numbers of people will begin going back from the asylum countries.
18. Given the destruction of many Kosovars’ identity documents, returnees need to be admitted irrespective of whether or not they possess identity documents. UNHCR has established mechanisms to provide ad hoc documents prior to border crossing for those in need. « Go and see visits » will be organised where required to assess conditions of return, which will require freedom of movement across border crossing points.
III. MAIN CONCERNS
19. Rebuilding the Balkans' economy will take, according to experts, at least 10 years. The conflict in Kosovo had aggravated an already serious situation. However, reconstruction of the region is a necessary precondition for its future peaceful development. « The Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe », approved by 26 states and 16 international organisations provides for 5 to 7.5 billion euros to flow annually as reconstruction aid into region. It also sets the framework for future cooperation between the countries of the region and the European Union.
20. It is estimated that some 50% of housing in Kosovo is damaged or destroyed. UNHCR is providing basic shelter materials for approximately 35 000 housing units. Some 15 000 « winterised » tents are on their way to Kosovo. They will be used to complement existing housing capacity and to rehabilitate some collective centres which could accommodate especially vulnerable returnees. Despite all these efforts, housing remains an essential concern for the return process.
21. Water and sanitation are also a serious problem. Some emergency water equipment will be deployed and part of the water/sanitation fleet from Albania will be moved to Kosovo. Donor technical experts are currently assessing needs.
22. Lack of essential health services endangers the lives and health of those who return. The rehabilitation and revitalisation of pre-existing health structures has begun.
23. The exact magnitude of the problem of landmines and unexploded NATO bombs is impossible to assess at present. Hundreds of thousands of mines have been laid by the Yugoslav army and by the KLA. Another matter of concern is the suspected use by warring factions of booby traps. Mine clearance teams have begun the huge task of trying to identify mined areas.
24. There is a real danger that the peace in Kosovo will result in a new mass exodus, that of Serbian civilians. NATO officials have given assurances that the international security force deploying in Kosovo will protect all people regardless of ethnicity. However, the situation of the remaining Serbian civilians in Kosovo is very precarious. The Kosovo Serbs’ right to remain in their homes must be safeguarded, as the Kosovars go back to their villages. The Montenegrin Government’s Commissioner for Displaced Persons has confirmed that the Kosovo Serbs will be assisted on the same basis as others displaced from Kosovo.
25. On 9 June UN agencies (UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, FAO, UNFPA, OHCHR, WHO and OCHA) and IOM appealed for a further $473.4 million for emergency aid. The response from member States must be generous.
IV. COUNCIL OF EUROPE’S CONTRIBUTION
26. The Council of Europe has been contributing in its field of competence to international humanitarian action both in the short as well as in the medium and longer term.
27. The Social Development Fund reacted promptly to the dramatic developments in the region by providing a donation to United Nations agencies providing emergency aid for the refugees in Kosovo. Albania has become a member of the Fund, and neighbouring countries have been offered expertise and assistance in developing projects which could be financed by loans from the Fund.
28. The Council of Europe has been playing a role in the registration of refugees and re-establishment of their identities on the territory of «the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia» and Albania. Targeted projects in the field of education, recreation and sport for Kosovo Albanian children and young people are being worked out. In cooperation with UNICEF, the programme to help Kosovo child victims has already been launched as a part of Council’s Programme for Children.
29. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe continues its action for the twinning of municipalities in Albania and of «the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia» which are hosting refugees, on the one hand, and municipalities in other Council of Europe member states, on the other. This programme should now be extended to Kosovo itself.
30. The Council of Europe has contributed to the elaboration, and is given a role in, the implementation of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. Specific projects and concrete activities will be determined in close cooperation with the national authorities concerned.
31. The Parliamentary Assembly has contributed to the political debate on the subject. It has closely followed the humanitarian situation of the refugees and displaced population in the region. A delegation of its Committee of Migration, Refugees and Demography has visited refugee camps in Albania and «the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia», and met political leaders and representatives of humanitarian agencies in both countries. At present it is preparing a new mission to Kosovo and other parts of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in accordance with Order No. 552 (1999).
32. The tragic developments in Kosovo have highlighted in a dramatic way the need to elaborate a comprehensive pan-European approach to emergency situations involving mass flows of refugees. Preparedness measures for the present crisis proved to be insufficient, and for too long neighbouring countries were overwhelmed.
33. The Parliamentary Assembly is well placed to contribute to the political debate with a view to elaborating pan-European mechanisms of burden-sharing in case of mass flows.
Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 8449).
Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.
Reference to committee: Urgent debate, Reference No. 2402 of 21 June 1999.
Opinion approved on 22 June 1999.
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Newman, Mrs Nachilo, Mr Adelsbach.
1 See Doc. 8449.