23 June 1998
Crisis in Kosovo and the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography
Rapporteur: Mr Tadeusz Iwinski, Poland, Socialist Group
Situation in Kosovo
1. According to the latest UNHCR estimates, some 45 000 people have been displaced within Kosovo since the Serbian security forces began operations there at the end of February this year. However, limited access to many of the areas where internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been accommodated has prevented UNHCR and other agencies from collecting reliable statistics. The estimates published by the most broadly based humanitarian organisation in Kosovo, the Mother Teresa Society, are nevertheless much higher : a total of 112 282 as of 9 June 1998 and 110 374 on 16 June, but UNHCR warns that these figures should be treated with caution since they may include double registrations. UNHCR plans to co-ordinate the registration of IDPs and points out that their situation is extremely fluid.
2. Most of the IDPs are Kosovo Albanians who fled the conflict zones for neighbouring towns and villages, but Serb families have also been displaced, apparently following night-time attacks by armed Kosovo Albanian civilians. The ethnic Serb population of Kosovo numbers about 150 000, or just under 10%.
3. International relief agencies have been denied access to conflict areas either by the Serb authorities or by armed civilians. Moreover, incidents involving the confiscation of humanitarian assistance by the Serb authorities have been reported. Despite delays at police checkpoints a first delivery of humanitarian supplies was made to Djakovica on 12 June for distribution through the local Red Cross and the Mother Teresa Society in a joint operation by UNHCR, WHO and UNICEF. This was planned as the precursor for deliveries to all areas of Kosovo. However, restrictions still apply, even after President Milosevic’s promise in Moscow on 16 June to allow international observers and humanitarian organisations access to all areas.
4. There is also the problem of the security of some 11 800 Croatian Serb refugees in Kosovo, some of whom are housed in collective centres in the Drenica area, scene of security operations by Serb police. During her recent visit to the region, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs Ogata, urged the Serbian authorities to move such refugees to safer locations.
Situation in Montenegro
5. According to UNHCR, as of 19 June the Ministry of the Interior of Montenegro reported an estimated 10 900 internally displaced persons from Kosovo in Montenegro, and they continued to arrive at a rate of some 300 a day. Since the closure of the FRY-Albania border the numbers are expected to increase. These IDPs have until recently not been registered, unlike refugees, but the Montenegrin Commissioner for Displaced Persons has now ordered that IDPs should be officially registered. This will clarify not only the statistics but also their right to material assistance. The largest numbers are Kosovo Albanians but there are also, in descending numerical order, Serbs, Muslims, Montenegrins and others including Roma. Some refugees have not only had to walk for days over mountainous terrain, but they have also encountered problems at the border including intimidation and separation of families by the Serb police.
6. The vast majority of refugees are accommodated with host families. Although the local Red Cross has supplied flour to these families, and there have been bread distributions, a food shortage is apparently looming. Collective accommodation includes three hotels and a refugee settlement in Plav/Gusinje, and in Rozaje a transit centre has been opened in a factory, where Swiss Disaster Relief are looking into up-grading unsatisfactory sanitary conditions. Moreover, the Commissioner for Displaced Persons has requested tents for 600 Roma IDPs encamped on the outskirts of Podgorica. Tents and rehabilitation work on government buildings have also been requested to help provide space for some of the more than 1 300 registered IDPs in the town of Ulcinj.
Situation in Northern Albania
7. As of 19 June, UNHCR reported that the authorities had registered some 9 000 refugees in Northern Albania, while the number of unregistered refugees was estimated at between 2 000 and 4 000. Some 100-200 had been arriving daily but the closing of the border by FRY troops had considerably reduced the influx. UNHCR estimates that about 70-80% of the refugees are women (one arrived nine months pregnant) and children. 50% are children under 18 and some 10% are elderly people. All are in a state of exhaustion and shock, having had to travel long distances over mountainous terrain, often at night to escape detection and often in heavy rain. Some are wounded. Several mine accidents have been reported in the border area. UNHCR assists in transporting refugees from the border to Bajram Curri, from where they are taken to local communes.
8. The local population have been extraordinarily generous. The overwhelming majority of refugees have been taken in by host families, mainly in Bajram Curri, Tropoje, Fierze, Luigai and Margegay communes. These families are in turn assisted by UNHCR and other organisations including the World Food Programme, the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the local and international Red Cross, Children’s Aid Direct, and Médecins sans frontières (International). The Association of Albanian Businessmen and the Association of Kosovo Albanians Living Abroad have played a key supply role. The Albanian Government has announced that each refugee would receive a cash lump sum equivalent to USD 10.
9. Some unused public buildings are being rehabilitated for future use. To meet any large-scale emergency and as a back-up of last resort, a camp with 100 tents has been set up between Bajram Curri and Fierze.
10. For the time being food supplies are adequate (20-day rations are distributed) but there is a need for mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, bed sheets, hygienic kits and stoves. Relief supplies, mainly from UNHCR stocks in Bosnia and Croatia, are being transported by truck convoy and airlift in Norwegian and Belgian military aircraft from Tirana. However, there is a lack of storage space.
11. Many refugees have lost contact with family members during their flight. Therefore the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has opened three tracing offices in Tropoja district.
12. There is a problem with security in the refugee reception areas. For example, on 14 June a new Médecins sans frontières vehicle was hijacked by armed and masked men in Bajram Curri. However, a 30-member Albanian Government delegation headed by the Director of the Ministry of Local Government arrived that day to manage the refugee situation and coordinate the distribution of relief supplies. They were reportedly accompanied by an army unit.
Situation in « the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia »
13. On 20 May, the authorities announced that there were no refugees from Kosovo in « the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia ». Only 100 to 200 « guests » from Kosovo were reported to be staying in the country, 22.9% of whose population, according to the 1994 census conducted with the assistance of the European Union and the Council of Europe, is ethnic Albanian.
14. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography cannot but endorse the conclusion outlined in the report of the Political Affairs Committee as far as the refugees and displaced persons from Kosovo are concerned : that the Yugoslav authorities, in close co-operation with the relevant international agencies, must create the conditions necessary for their return to their homes, and that the international humanitarian agencies must be allowed unrestricted access to all parts of Kosovo.
15. However, the corollary is that refugees and displaced persons should not have to return to Kosovo until these conditions are met. And this should also apply to the some 150 000 Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers in other Council of Europe member States. The latter should therefore renounce any intention to return rejected Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers until such time as the human rights and security situation in Kosovo allows them to return in safety and dignity, as recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
16. Finally, Council of Europe member States should respond generously to the joint funding appeal launched by six United Nations agencies (UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, WHO, UNDP and the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs) on 16 June 1998 for USD 18 million urgently needed to help the tens of thousands of people driven from their homes by the conflict in Kosovo, as well as appeals by other humanitarian organisations including the agencies of the international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement.
17. Accordingly, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography proposes the following amendment to the draft recommendation adopted by the Political Affairs Committee :
– to insert an additional paragraph after paragraph 14 worded as follows:
"The Assembly calls on the member States of the Council of Europe:
– to respond generously to the funding appeals launched by the humanitarian organisations, in particular the United Nations agencies and those of the international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, on behalf of the victims of the Kosovo crisis;
– to act generously in granting asylum to refugees and asylum seekers from Kosovo, having special regard to the specific needs of women and children;
– not to send back to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers whose asylum applications have been rejected until such time as they can return in safety and dignity".
Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 8149).
Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.
Reference to committee: Urgent debate, Reference No. 2303 du 22 juin 1998.
Draft opinion approved on 23 June 1998.
Secretaries to the committee: MM. Newman and Adelsbach.
1 See Doc. 8149.