Doc. 8392

26 April 1999

Humanitarian situation of the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons


Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteurs: Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group, and Mr Ali Dinēer, Turkey, Socialist Group


The current humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo has forced over 650 000 people to flee their country, and seek protection in neighbouring regions and countries, in particular in Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. Despite support provided by other governments and international organisations, the huge numbers involved constitute a serious threat to the political, economic and social stability of these countries and the region as a whole. The Rapporteurs call on Council of Europe member States to fully implement their commitments to receive Kosovo refugees on their territory, and to step up their financial support for the humanitarian relief action.

Gravely concerned over the fate of the displaced population within Kosovo, the Rapporteurs propose that governments should consider the feasibility of carrying out airdrops and of ensuring the military protection of humanitarian convoys.

The Rapporteurs underscore that emergency relief should be followed up by financial assistance from the international community on a huge scale both for reconstruction and rehabilitation in Kosovo – one of the primary conditions for the return of refugees – and for improvement of the economic situation in the region, in particular in Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

The Rapporteurs also pay tribute to the governments in neighbouring countries, as well as to other governments and to the international organisations for their unprecedented efforts to provide refugees with protection and assistance.

I.       Draft recommendation

1.       The Parliamentary Assembly refers to its Recommendations 1376 (1998), 1397 (1999), 1400 (1999), and ......(1999) and Resolution 1182 (1999) on the crisis in Kosovo and situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), and to its Recommendation 1385 (1998) on the situation of the Kosovo refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. It emphasises that the current humanitarian tragedy in the region is inextricably linked to the political causes of the crisis and requires an urgent political solution.

2.       The Parliamentary Assembly is deeply alarmed by the plight of the displaced persons trapped in Kosovo reportedly with little or no shelter, protection or assistance and considers that priority should be given to getting relief to them. Given the ever- increasing vulnerability of these people, urgent consideration should be given to the feasibility of carrying out air drops in Kosovo and even of ensuring the military protection of humanitarian convoys.

3.       The Assembly underlines that according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) those fleeing Kosovo for neighbouring countries are refugees within the 1951 Geneva Convention definition and should be given unimpeded access to those countries, protected and treated accordingly.

4.       The Assembly is gravely concerned by the situation of the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons in neighbouring regions and countries, in particular in Albania, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Montenegro, where their overwhelming numbers (about 10% of the population) constitute a serious threat to political, economic and social stability. Everything must be done to ensure that the presence of the refugees and provision of relief to them do not create tensions with the local inhabitants.

5.       The Assembly expresses its appreciation for the efforts undertaken by the governments and relief organisations of these countries and regions in providing protection and assistance, and considers that those Council of Europe member States which have not yet done so should, as a matter of urgency, announce and fully implement, in co-ordination with UNHCR, commitments to receive Kosovo refugees on their territory.

6.       The Assembly expresses its full support for the efforts by the national and international organisations involved in protection and relief work on behalf of the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons, and recognises their urgent need for adequate funding for this purpose. The Assembly believes that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) should step up its valued contribution to the relief effort in terms of logistical support and assistance and regular press briefings should be provided on its humanitarian work. Nevertheless, it is essential that the humanitarian operation remain firmly under civilian control, and that UNHCR maintain the role of lead co-ordinating agency.

7.       The Assembly welcomes the announcement by the Social Development Fund that it will make a donation to United Nations agencies providing relief for the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons and encourages it to do more along these lines pending the identification and implementation of projects for loans. Member States which have not yet done so should now join the Fund to demonstrate solidarity as it begins to play a part in meeting the crisis.

8.       The Assembly also welcomes the appeal by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe for support to Kosovo refugees through partnerships between European towns and the municipalities hosting refugees in Albania and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

9.       The Assembly underscores that emergency relief should be followed up by financial assistance from the international community on a huge scale for reconstruction and rehabilitation in Kosovo, one of the primary conditions for the return of refugees, and the rest of the region. The Council of Europe should contribute to the elaboration of a comprehensive multi-sectoral plan to this end.

10.       The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i. urge the Serb and Yugoslav authorities:

      a. to provide unimpeded access for humanitarian organisations to all areas of Kosovo, and to guarantee the safety of all aid workers in the field;

      b. to keep their borders open and to create the necessary conditions for the safe return of refugees;

ii. urge the Montenegrin authorities:

to continue to assist the displaced population from Kosovo and to guarantee its safety and security;

iii. urge the Governments of Albania and of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”:

iv. urge the member States of the Council of Europe and in particular the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries:

11.       The Assembly further recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

II.       Draft order

With reference to its Recommendation .....(1999) on the humanitarian situation of the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons, the Parliamentary Assembly instructs its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to send a delegation to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and in particular to Kosovo and Montenegro, to assess the humanitarian situation of the internally displaced persons and civilian victims of the military operations conducted by the parties to the conflict.

III.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Iwiński and Mr Dinēer



1. Introduction       7

2. Overview of the situation       7

3. Immediate response       9

4. Medium and long term response       12

5. Role of the Council of Europe       13

6. Conclusions       14

APPENDIX I – Report on the fact-finding visit of the delegation of the

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to

Albania and "the former Yugoslav Republic of

Macedonia", 18-22 April 1999       15

APPENDIX II – Programme of the visit, 18-22 April 1999       19

1.       Introduction

1.        Following the recent dramatic developments in Kosovo and the surrounding regions, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography decided to hold a hearing on the humanitarian situation of the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons on 15 April 1999. After the hearing the Committee requested that a debate on this subject be held under urgent procedure during the second part of the 1999 session of the Parliamentary Assembly (26-30 April 1999).

2.        Moreover, the Committee decided to set up a delegation composed of the Committee Chair, the two Rapporteurs, and the Chair of the Sub-committee on Refugees to visit Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” on 18-22 April 1999. During the fact-finding visit the delegation met representatives of national authorities responsible for the reception of refugees, and visited refugee camps in the region (see Appendices).

3.        The present report is based on the conclusions of the hearing and on the findings of the visit to the region. It also takes into account the updated information provided by the international organisations involved in the humanitarian action in the field, in particular by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

4.        Since January 1998, the Assembly has held five debates on the situation in Kosovo under the rules of urgent procedure. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has contributed to them by preparing two reports and two opinions. Aware of the rapidly changing situation in the region, the Committee refers to the main principles included in the Assembly's Recommendations 1376 (1998), 1397 (1999), 1400 (1999) and Resolution 1182 (1999) on the crisis in Kosovo and the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), and to Recommendation 1385(1998) on the situation of the Kosovo refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.

5.        The Rapporteurs stress that the dramatic humanitarian situation of the Kosovo refugees and displaced persons stems from the political problem in the region and cannot be examined in abstraction from its political causes and possible political solutions. However, as the Political Affairs Committee has prepared a report on this subject, the Rapporteurs have confined the present report to the humanitarian aspects.

2.       Overview of the situation

6.        The present crisis in Kosovo has evolved from clashes between Serb security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) ongoing since February 1998 with a temporary break following the Holbrooke-Milosevic accord of 13 October 1998. The conflict stems from the earlier period of repression of the Kosovo Albanians following the abolition by Mr Milosevic of their autonomous status in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1989 and the failure of Mr. Rugova’s policy of pacific resistance.

7.        By October 1998 the number of displaced persons within Kosovo was estimated at over 200 000 people. Some 50 000 of them were living in particularly exposed conditions in remote wooded and mountainous areas. The number of refugees having fled to the neighbouring countries and to other European destinations amounted to nearly 200 000. The cease-fire and the subsequent deployment of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) enabled some 50 000 displaced persons living in the mountains to return to their villages before the onset of winter, which prevented a humanitarian catastrophe. Others started gradually to return.

8.        This process was interrupted by the outbreak of new fighting in late December 1998 resulting in further population displacement. Despite intensive diplomatic efforts to bring about a political settlement, the continued human rights violations by Serb security forces intensified.

9.        The failure of the Rambouillet negotiations and the subsequent withdrawal, on 20 March 1999, of the KVM and international organisations was followed by the massive policy of ethnic cleansing carried out by FRY armed troops and Serb paramilitary forces in Kosovo leading to destruction of whole villages, the killing of civilians and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of persons forced to flee to neighbouring countries.

10.       By 24 March 1999, UNHCR estimated that there were some 260 000 displaced persons in Kosovo. This figure was on the rise. Moreover there were some 200 000 refugees outside the province, including 100 000 outside the region and 30 000 in other parts of Serbia.

11.       On 24 March 1999, following the beginning of the military action by NATO, the Kosovo crisis entered a new phase which resulted in further mass displacements. By 24 April, over 650 000 people had fled the province. Of this number, some 66 500 were in Montenegro, some 133 000 in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, some 362 000 in Albania and 32 500 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the Yugoslav government’s unconfirmed reports there are 50 000 displaced persons from Kosovo in Serbia proper.

12.       As of 20 April, the exodus of refugees into Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” slowed down considerably. The most probable reason is that they were forcibly prevented by FRY troops and Serb militia from reaching Kosovo’s borders and some were turned back. The cause of the reversal of the policy of expulsions is unknown.

13.       In the absence of any international presence in Kosovo, it is impossible to know exactly the numbers of displaced. However, according to the evidence provided by refugees arriving in neighbouring countries, thousands of people are hiding in remote wooded and mountainous areas. KLA sources maintain that between 360 000 to 400 000 IDPs remain in Kosovo.

14.       The plight of this displaced population in Kosovo, and in particular in the Podujevo and Drenica areas should be emphasised. Some who have managed to arrive in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” give evidence of crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo and they show signs of malnutrition. It should be stressed that every Kosovo Albanian still within the province is today at risk. They are also exposed to the air strikes, as shown by the tragic incident of 14 April, when NATO targetted a Kosovo Albanian convoy of refugee civilians.

15.       Reports from the KLA suggest that intensive clearing of the Kosovo Albanian population from the south eastern areas of Kosovo is now underway and that significant numbers of IDPs may shortly arrive, if they are not prevented, at the border with “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

16.       The security situation has significantly worsened for displaced people staying in Montenegro in areas near the Kosovo border. They are subject to incursions by the Serb security forces and thus directly exposed to danger.

17.       Security is also very precarious along the Albanian border, where refugees are at risk from armed clashes and reported shelling.

18.       Due to the periodical closure of the Macedonian borders, numbers of refugees have been seen stranded, sometimes for a few days, in the “no man’s land” sites, which are not accessible to humanitarian agencies and without any assistance. For example 3 000 refugees were stopped for two days at the Lojane border crossing, before being admitted to the Macedonian territory. Another 6 000 refugees arrived on 20 April at the remote mountain village of Mala Malina, but are not formally considered as admitted to the country by the authorities, and UNHCR was not allowed to deliver relief supplies to them until 23 April.

19.       The humanitarian situation remains very precarious in the host neighbouring countries, especially in Albania and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", inundated by flows of refugees whose number is about 10 % of the local population. Over 50 % are hosted by families, the rest are housed in overcrowded refugee camps. Evacuation of refugees from the border areas is under way.

20.       As of 24 April 1999, some 33 000 Kosovo refugees had been evacuated from “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” to European destinations in accordance with the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme. Of this figure, some 15 000 went to Albania, 9 974 went to Germany, 4 166 to Turkey, 1 117 to Norway, and others to France, Belgium, Poland, Austria and other European countries.

3.       Immediate response

21.       Mass systematic deportations carried out by the Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitary forces have swelled refugee flows to much higher figures than foreseen. The speed and scale of the exodus exceeded all expectations. During the first five days alone more than 130 000 people arrived in Albania, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Montenegro. Two days later this figure had doubled.

22.       Preparedness measures put in place by UNHCR and its humanitarian partners in the last few months in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Albania, have quickly proved to be insufficient. Consequently, the immediate international response to the refugee crisis has suffered from some evident shortcomings and placed undue strain on the refugees and the countries directly affected by the influx.

23.       During the first days of the exodus, thousands of people, the majority women, children and elderly – many of them deeply traumatised – wandered in the border areas of Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” with no place to go. Very poor sanitary and health conditions in the congested arrival areas created a real threat to their security. The assistance of the local population hosting refugees in private homes somewhat relieved the situation.

24.       Although UNHCR began an immediate relief operation, undertaking contacts with governments of the neighbouring countries, identifying sites for possible tented camps, distributing food and blankets, it took a few days before a satisfactory level of coordination of the various relief efforts was achieved.

25.       An urgent inter-agency donor alert was launched on 2 April 1999 to raise funds to respond to humanitarian needs stemming from the Kosovo crisis. The generous response on the part of governments and other donors was supplemented by widespread support by the general public in many countries.

26.       Over a period of a few days, efforts to deliver substantial amounts of material assistance were organised, thanks to governments in the region, with the active support by other governments, UNHCR and other UN agencies (UNICEF and the World Food Programme in particular), the International Organization for Migration, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and national and international NGOs. Efforts have concentrated especially on providing shelter, food, water, medicines and sanitary supplies. Temporary shelter facilities were established, and the first refugee camps were organised.

27.       However with the arrival of further waves of refugees, certain vital relief activities like airlifts, handling and storage operations at the airports receiving relief supplies, and the setting up of refugee transit centres and camps have turned out to be beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies.

28.       In agreement with Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” UNHCR requested NATO’s assistance for the humanitarian action in terms of logistical support. All parties concerned agree that the humanitarian operation remains firmly under civilian control, and that UNHCR maintains the role of lead agency coordinating the humanitarian relief effort.

29.       However, the rapidly growing numbers of new arrivals have resulted in serious concerns, in particular on the part of the government of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, about the potentially destabilising effect of the very large influx of refugees from Kosovo. For a few days, in spite of requests by many government leaders and UNHCR, the border remained virtually closed, with tens of thousands of refugees stranded in the “no man’s land” site of Blace, not accessible to humanitarian agencies, in poor weather conditions and without any assistance.

30.       On 4 April, in order to ease the pressure on “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, and to ensure that refugees are admitted on its territory, UNHCR urged states to share the burden of countries neighbouring Kosovo by offering access to temporary protection. UNHCR and IOM presented to governments a plan for the humanitarian evacuation of refugees who volunteer to be moved temporarily to further destinations, until conditions in their places of origin permit their return.

31.       The positive response on the part of the European governments resulted in the opening of the Macedonian border. However, since then on many occasions slow processing of refugees and periodical closure of borders both in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Albania have forced thousands of people to crowd into a “no-man’s land” areas. The delivery of humanitarian assistance to these people remains problematic.

32.       Regrettably, the hastily arranged first evacuations, not agreed with UNHCR, in some cases led to the separation of families. At present, the humanitarian evacuation action is carried out in a proper way. In response to UNHCR’s appeal the governments have offered temporary protection to some 100 000 refugees. UNHCR and IOM are responsible for identifying refugees to be evacuated and for determining their destination.

33.       Although it is preferable that the refugees remain in the region, nevertheless humanitarian evacuation is necessary as an exceptional measure when reception capacities in the neighbouring countries reach their limits. It is essential that it is carried out on a voluntary basis, after registration and with respect for family unity.

34.       In recent days, UNHCR has asked governments to accelerate the programme of humanitarian evacuations, and to simplify the procedures. The Rapporteurs strongly support this request for governments to do more.

35.       The situation in the camps remains worrying. As of 21 April in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” 51 100 were accommodated in 6 refugee camps. 43 549 of them were registered. Some 80 600 refugees stay with host families. The main concerns are refugee uncertainty, poor sanitation and lack of spare capacity.

36.       In Albania, 191 572 people are accommodated in refugee centres, the remainder with host families. The main concerns are: airlift capacity, co-ordination, the damaged road network, sanitation and hygiene.

37.       It is necessary to underline the generosity of the local population who have hosted up to 55 % of refugees.

38.       UNHCR remains extremely concerned about overcrowding in the camps and the associated risks (protection, fire hazards, public health and security). Although the overall health situation currently appears stable, camps are at serious risk of epidemics, in particular due to the constant influx of new arrivals and saturation capacity in terms of space, water and sanitation.

39.       One of the main concerns is to evacuate refugees from the overcrowded border areas, in particular in Albania where their security situation may deteriorate rapidly. UNHCR and the Albanian government are moving up to 10 000 persons daily out of the Kukės area by road. Helicopter lifts of vulnerable refugees from Kukės to Tirana, provided by NATO, began on 21 April 1999.

40.       The numbers of arrivals of refugees are constantly changing. UNHCR has warned that further numbers of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo have put the resources of humanitarian agencies under severe strain and urged members of the NATO alliance and other countries to step up their support on the ground, in particular concerning transport of relief supplies, and setting up more camps.

41.       It is essential that more funds be contributed urgently in response to the Consolidated Appeal, and to cover the additional, Kosovo-related needs expressed in the Donor Alert. The nature of the emergency demands that such financial aid be contributed as flexibly as possible.

42.       It should be noted with satisfaction that on 20 April the Macedonian authorities authorised the construction of a seventh refugee camp in Cegrane near Tetovo with an ultimate capacity to host 15 000 people and a new transit centre. They also approved the establishment of a tented transit centre at Blace.

43.       The UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that all those fleeing Kosovo and displaced outside the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are refugees under the terms of the 1951 Geneva Convention, and accordingly should be provided with adequate protection and granted all the rights inherent in refugee status.

44.       One of the most urgent objectives should be reunification of refugees’ families. There is evidence that adult males have been separated from their wives and children by the Yugoslav security forces. Many other families have been split up in the process of being expelled from Kosovo, and during the hasty and involuntary evacuations of some refugee groups when the sick and elderly were often left behind. Efforts to register the refugee population will help many families to be reunited. Tracing in co-operation with the governments concerned is underway.

45.       Another important task concerns the registration of all refugees. This is carried out by UNHCR and IOM and must be speeded up.

46.       The refugee operation has gained real momentum. Many governments and members of the public have pledged their support. Generous contributions are being made and the practical arrangements needed to provide the refugees with basic needs put in place.

47.       It is very important to coordinate the provision and delivery of relief assistance by governments, in order to avoid gaps and duplications, and to ensure smooth logistics and transport. UNHCR’s leading role and co-ordination mechanism has finally been recognised by all Governments, donors and NGOs as the only viable channel through which operations and objectives can be achieved.

4.       Medium and long term response

48.       Emergency relief should be followed up by medium and long term assistance projects based on a concerted effort and solidarity of the international community. A prolonged period of sustained assistance to refugees should be foreseen.

49.       The only acceptable solution for the vast majority will be voluntary repatriation. Once a political settlement is achieved, and necessary conditions for the returns met, an enormous task of reconstruction and reconciliation will have to be undertaken.

50.       Plans for a long-term solution to the Kosovo humanitarian crisis should be elaborated as soon as possible. They should include the launching of a package of economic measures in the form of a kind of “Marshall Plan”, aid for the consolidation of democratic institutions, strengthening of civil society and protection of individual and minority rights.

51.       The regional dimension must not be neglected. The crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of neighbouring countries such as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Albania, which in many ways are poorer than Kosovo itself. These countries require economic assistance. They also need help to build the national institutions and civil society that can provide a basis for future stability and economic growth.

52.       The Kosovo crisis already has a negative impact on the fragile process of minority returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on society which continues to remain divided along ethnic lines.

53.       One of the necessary conditions for the returns is full support for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in its work of bringing to justice those guilty of crimes against humanity.

54.       Humanitarian law violations committed against the civilian population of Kosovo must be monitored and documented. Statements are being collected from refugees located in camps and local communities. A range of violations of humanitarian law relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflict as expressed in the 1949 Geneva Convention and Protocol II have been reported. The statements collected refer to incidents of killings, executions, physical abuse, rape, forced displacement, destruction of civilian property and looting, involving individuals and groups of people even up to whole village populations. Many people have reported violations of humanitarian law committed by various paramilitary groups and bands of armed civilians.

5.       Role of the Council of Europe

55.       As a pan-European Organisation with a human rights vocation, the Council of Europe seems well placed to contribute in its field of competence to international humanitarian action both in the short as well as in the medium and longer term.

56.       The Social Development Fund of the Council of Europe is to be congratulated for having announced that it will make a 2 million Ecu donation to United Nations agencies providing emergency aid for the refugees in Kosovo, and the Assembly should call on the Fund to explore the possibility of providing further assistance along those lines.

57.       The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has already approved a role for the Organisation in the registration of refugees and re-establishment of their identities on the territory of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Albania. This operation, carried out under the leadership of UNHCR and IOM, will benefit from the experience of Council of Europe staff, and will need to be strengthened.

58.       Another field where the Council of Europe’s expertise will be applied is in monitoring and documenting humanitarian law violations committed against the civilian population of Kosovo and collection of statements.

59.       Targetted projects in the field of education at all levels, recreation and sport for the Kosovo Albanian children and young people in refugee camps should be further elaborated by the relevant services of the Council of Europe.

60.       Particular mention should be made of the excellent initiative of the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe for the twinning of municipalities in Albania and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” which are hosting refugees with municipalities in other Council of Europe member States for the purpose of channelling humanitarian assistance.

61.       In order to be able to carry out all these tasks, the reinforcement of Council of Europe’s office in Tirana should be foreseen, as well as the establishment of a new office in Skopje.

62.       With a view to the future reconstruction of Kosovo, the Council of Europe could initiate the elaboration of a comprehensive, multi-sectoral plan in co-operation with relevant finance institutions and international organisations.

63.       Concerning medium and longer term action, the Council of Europe should play a significant role in the development of democratic institutions and civil society in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” as well as in Albania through legal advice, training, support for non-governmental organisations and local democracy, and confidence-building measures designed to overcome inter-ethnic animosity and prejudice.

6.       Conclusions

64.       Three and a half years after the signature of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, hundreds of thousands of people continue to be displaced throughout the region. The new refugee emergency is even more catastrophic than previous ones. Unprecedented violations of the most basic human rights of an entire civilian population are being perpetrated which appear to aim at destroying its collective identity. The Council of Europe was founded fifty years ago to prevent such tragedies. Its founding principles must prevail.


Report on the fact-finding visit of the delegation1 of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography to Albania and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" from 18 to 22 April 1999

1.       First of all, the delegation would like to thank very warmly all those who made its intensive programme of discussions and visits in Albania (18-22 April 1999) and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (22-24 April 1999) possible at a time of crisis, especially the delegations of these two countries to the Parliamentary Assembly and their Secretariats, other members of parliament, representatives of the State and Government, the staff of international and non-governmental organisations, the drivers and, last but not least, the pilots of a very worthy helicopter which took the delegation on an unforgettable journey from Tiranė to Kukės and back.

2.       The overall impression is one of two countries already struggling in different ways with difficult economic and political situations desperately trying to maintain stability in the face of an overwhelming number of refugees (representing about 10% of the population of Albania and that of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia").

3.       The Albanians appear to have given an open-armed welcome to their ethnic cousins from Kosovo by "sharing their poverty", and want to keep them in the region. The main problems are transport for the transfer of new arrivals southwards to safer and more stable conditions, the provision of adequate shelter, sanitation, water, baby-food and non-food items.

4.       Kukės, one of the poorest areas in Albania, is the first major collection point for onward transit and is in a constant state of emergency because of sudden waves of new arrivals (56 000 on one day, average between 15 and 16 000, none on the day of the visit), insecurity, overcrowding (population normally 24 000 but at the time of the visit host to 142 000 refugees – a ratio of about 1 to 6, 50-60% women and children under 14), the difficulty of supplying by road from the south (130 tons of food neeeded every day, distribution is off the back of a truck to long queues of people), lack of hygiene supplies, wet weather, and the support needed for host families (about half are in families: in one house visited 60 people lived in three rooms on one floor). UNHCR coordinates the relief work of about 30 agencies. The message from Kukės to the international community was echoed again and again throughout the visit: financial aid is urgently needed not only for emergency relief but also for infrastucture (roads, sanitation, communications, etc.).

5.       The refugee centres visited in Tiranė included a major sports complex with a mass of refugees (about 1 800) huddled with their belongings on mattresses on the floors of three basket-ball courts, and a swimming-pool complex covered with army tents. Refugees explained how they had been forced to leave their homes and farms under threat, some recounted killings and beatings, none wished to return to live with Serbs or under their authority. Questions about the future elicited shrugs or blank looks. Clearly, hard thinking about their medium and long term future must now be one of the main tasks of the international community. Among other things, the days are not far off when temperatures will soar to 40° and over and we should start thinking about next winter.

6.       The camp visited in Elbasan received its first consignment of refugees on the day of the delegation's visit. Run by the Turkish Red Crescent, it provides tented accommodation for 5 000 in an open field. Water had to be piped in from one kilometre and septic pits had been prepared, but improvements still had to be made. This model of a camp built, supplied and run by a foreign nation in the form of direct aid is followed also by Italy, Britain and others and is to be recommended to other nations. It was also good for transparency.

7.       Representatives of Elbasan local authorities described the "host fatigue" being experienced by families, resulting in movement of refugees to collective centres, already stretched, and gave the delegation a list of needed items, especially food and hygiene supplies, beds, mattresses, blankets, disinfectants, as well as infrastucture (water, sanitation, kitchens). Problems with the host community could be anticipated where living standards were allowed to diverge too widely in comparison with camps and collective centres. A big problem was psychological trauma among refugees resulting in passivity. They should be organised to administer themselves as far as possible.

8.       Discussions with political leaders in Albania were frank and illuminating. The number of refugees was about to reach 400 000 and would probably go to 500 000. Milosevic had been planning this ethnic cleansing "Operation Horse-shoe" for over a year. The situation was described as the most difficult since the Second World War. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had just broken off diplomatic relations, which was a matter of indifference. Much was expected of NATO. UNHCR was criticised for the time and bureaucratic procedures it took to face the initial crisis. (It must be said that the delegation also heard about humanitarian aid, even perishable goods, being held up on account of governmental bureaucracy, e.g at the port of Dürres). 10% of humanitarian aid was bilateral and administered by the Government: the rest came through the major intergovernmental organisations, NGOs and various national missions managing their own camps. The cost of supporting a refugee was $5 a day. With an expected half a million in total this represented $2.5 million every day. 75 tons of bread per day were needed in Kukės alone. There was a problem co-ordinating NGOs, some relatively inexperienced.

9.       The inextricable link between the political and the humanitarian is exemplified by the situation of the Kosovo Albanian refugees in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", where their arrival directly affects the ethnic balance between Albanians (22.7% according to the 1994 census), the Macedonians (66.6%), who are Slavs, and the Serbs (2.1%), who are becoming unruly and attacking any symbol of the presence of the international community. The latter’s representatives told the delegation about attacks on their vehicles, and the European flag may be seen daubed with the swastika. These tensions were reflected in the positions presented during discussions with political leaders. There is a sense of frustration in that the Albanian community is represented in the present Government, whose attempt to reduce ethnic tensions and enhance stability is now jeopardised. All this partly explains why the Government, unlike that of Albania (and unlike the Albanian parties within the Macedonian Government) is reluctant to admit more refugees and wishes to evacuate many of them to other countries. It also points to the fragility of the situation in the whole Balkan region.

10.       The other reason for Macedonian reluctance to take in more refugees is the impact on the economy, and, it was submitted, on the environment. Having weathered the effects of the sanctions imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, its main trading partner, and the cutting off of its rail and road links with the rest of Europe, as well as the Greek embargo, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" finds itself once more economically handicapped, losing, the delegation was told, $250 million per month on account of the present situation, as well as promises of international investment and all prospects of a prosperous tourist season. Companies were going bankrupt and unemployment had risen to 50% of the work force. A cancellation or remission of foreign debt repayment was being sought. Some stimulus could be given to the economy if relief supplies could be purchased from existing stocks in the country.

11.       In view of the above-mentioned political and economic constraints, the Government had calculated before the crisis that the maximum number of refugees it could take in was 20 000. There were now at least 140 000. Political leaders were reassured that UNHCR had now reversed its initial position by stating recently that it would not object to the evacuation of refugees in order to relieve the burden. Many countries had announced that they would take in Kosovo refugees but so far only about a third of the total commitment of some 100 000 had been fulfilled.

12.       The delegation visited refugee camps at Stankovac I (Brazda) and Radusa, as well as the frontier and reception and transit area at Blace. The overcrowding is palpable (UNHCR recommends 30 m² per person, the average is 10.9 m²). New camps and accommodation are desperately needed. Besides the atrocious weather, camp managers are struggling with supply problems, sanitation, water, and having to move entire tent sites because of complaints by land-owners that permission had not been obtained by the Government. The main problem, however, is the need to adapt to repeated sudden new arrivals (e.g. 84 buses in 24 hours) of hundreds of refugees, disrupting any semblance of camp stability. Macedonian police presence at the gates of these wired camps is designed to control entry and exit. Most refugees are seeking evacuation from this situation. First, however, they have to be registered, which appears not to be happening at Radusa. If refugees are not evacuated, it is difficult to accommodate new arrivals.

13.       The delegation concluded from its discussions and visits in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" that indeed the crisis was not of the country's making, and that to the extent that it was suffering the consequences of policies decided by the international community, the latter should do more to show its solidarity and share the burden. Among other things, Council of Europe member States should rapidly fulfil and where appropriate, to increase, their commitments to admit Kosovo refugees. However, public opinion would be more receptive if it were clear that "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" was fully implementing its own commitments, for example under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In this connection, the delegation appealed to the authorities to allow full access for UNHCR to the some 6 000 refugees stranded in snow and wind in the mountains at Malina Mala on the border, and to admit them. The reply was that this was an "illegal" crossing and that in any case the frontier had not been officially demarcated, implying a denial of responsibility. More vociferous opposition to their admittance was heard from an NGO representative in the Skopje headquarters of the Macedonian Red Cross Society, which does sterling work with few resources on behalf of the refugees and their host families as well as the local vulnerable population: in her opinion, the Kosovo Albanians at Malina Mala were not refugees at all and did not deserve humanitarian assistance. Macedonia was sitting on a "demographic time-bomb". These are familiar words to those conversant with the history of Kosovo and the Balkan region.


Programme of the visit, 18-22 April 1999

Sunday, 18 April 1999

14:00       Arrival MM. Dķaz de Mera, Dinēer at Rinas Airport, Tiranė

(LV225 from Bologna)

14:20       Arrival Lord Judd and MM Iwiński, Newman at Rinas Airport, Tiranė

(JP1704 from Ljubljana)

Transfer by official car to Hotel « Villa 31 » (Tel/fax: 355 42 330 73)

15:15       Visit of refugee camp in Tiranė (Sport complex Asllan Rusi)

17:00       Visit of refugee camp in Tiranė (Dinamo complex)

19:30        Working dinner with the Albanian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly

Monday, 19 April 1999

08:00       Working breakfast with Mr Jacques MOUCHET, Special envoy of the UNHCR to Albania

09:00       Meeting with Refugee Committee of the Albanian Parliament (Chair: Mr Jonuz BEGAJ)

10:00       Meeting with Prof. Dr. Skender GJINUSHI, Speaker of the Parliament of Albania

11:00       Meeting with Mr. Pandeli MAJKO, Prime Minister of Albania, and Mr Kastriot ISLAMI, Governmental Co-ordinator of Humanitarian Assistance

12:00       Meeting with Prof. Dr. Rexhep MEIDANI, President of Albania

13:00       Press conference (Hotel Rogner Europapark)

14:00       Departure to Kukės

15:00       Meeting with Mr Qemal ELEZI, Prefect of Kukės

18:00       Departure to Tiranė

20:00       Working dinner hosted by Mr Ahmet R. OKCUN, Ambassador of Turkey to Albania, with representatives of OSCE, EU, NATO, etc.

Tuesday, 20 April 1999

08:30       Departure for Elbasan

09:30       Meeting with Mr Durim HUSHI, Prefect of Elbasan, and Mr Ilir BALLIU, Head of Elbasan District Council

11:00       Visit to Turkish refugee camp

12:00       Departure for Quafe Thane (Kafasan)

14:00       Arrival at the Quafe Thane (Kafasan) border crossing (Albania – "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia")

14:30       Meeting with Dr Gulistana MARKOVSKA, M.P. and representatives of the city of Ohrid

16:30       Departure for Skopje

20:00       Meeting with Mr Gerald WALZER, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, and staff

Wednesday, 21 April 1999

08:45       Meeting with Mr. Julian PEEL-YATES, Deputy Head OSCE

10:00       Meeting at the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia with the members of the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee on Labour and Social Policy

11:30       Meeting with Mr. Stefan NIKOLOVSKI, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and staff

13:00       Working lunch hosted by the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly

15:00       Visits to refugee camps: Stankovic I (Brazda), border and transit centre at Blace, and Radusa, accompanied by UNHCR

20:00       Working dinner with international and local community representatives, hosted by Mr Fazli KESMIR, Ambassador of Turkey in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

Thursday, 22 April 1999

08:10       Departure of M. Dķaz de Mera (Rome)

10:00       Meeting in Koco Racin Blvd (premises of the Red Cross) with the representatives of the Red Cross and other NGOs assisting the accommodation of refugees

12:00       Meeting with Mr Savo KLIMOVSKI, Speaker of the Parliament of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

15:20       Departure of M. Dinēer (M416 to Istanbul)

15:30       Departure of Lord Judd, MM. Iwiński and Newman (JP1149 to Ljubljana)

Reporting committee : Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly : none.

Reference to committee: Urgent debate

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the Committee on 26 April 1999

Members of the Committee: Mr Dķaz de Mera (Chairman), Mr Iwiński (Vice-Chairman), Mrs Aguiar, MM. Akselsen, Amoruso (Alternate: Mrs Squarcialupi), Įrnason, Mrs Arnold (Alternate: Soendergaard), MM. Atkinson (Alternate: Hancock), Aushev, Beaufays, Mrs Björnemalm, MM. Bogomolov, Brancati, Branger, Mrs Brasseur, Mrs Bušić, MM. Chiliman (Alternate: Pop), Christodoulides, Chyzh, Cilevics, Clerfayt, Connor (Alternate: Kiely), Debarge, Dinēer, Mrs Dumont, Mr Einarsson, Mrs Fehr, MM. Filimonov, Ghiletchi, Gyürk, Ivanov, Jakic, Lord Judd, Mrs Karimi, Mrs Karlsson, MM. Koulouris, Kozlowski, Laakso, Mrs Langthaler, MM. Lauricella, Liapis, Luķs, Mrs Markovska, MM. Mateju, Melo (Alternate: Begaj), Minkov, Mularoni, Mutman, Ouzky, Pullicino Orlando, Rakhansky, Mrs Rastauskiené, Mrs Roth, MM. von Schmude, Sincai, Tabajdi, Tahir, Mrs Terpstra, MM. Thönnes (Alternate: Mrs Lörcher), Tkįc, Mrs Vermot-Mangold, Mr Wray, N …. (Alternate: Mrs Guirado, Vice-Chair).

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries of the committee: Mr Newman, Mrs Nachilo, Mr Adelsbach.

1 Members: Mr Agustķn DĶAZ DE MERA (Spain), Chairman of the Committee, Mr Tadeusz IWIŃSKI (Poland) First Vice-Chairman and Co-Rapporteur, Mr Ali DINĒER (Turkey), Co-Rapporteur, Lord JUDD (United Kingdom), Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Refugees, and Mr Simon NEWMAN, Secretary to the Committee.