Doc. 8703

5 April 2000

Action plan for the children of Kosovo

Opinion1

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Mrs Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, Switzerland, Socialist Group

1.       Summary of developments

1. Years of civil disruption followed by the outbreak of armed conflict in Kosovo resulted in massive population movements within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and to neighbouring countries. Over a million people fled their homes of whom some 800 000 ethnic Albanians took refuge in countries close to Kosovo, and an additional 60 000 were internally displaced in Central Serbia.

2. Whereas approximately 810 000 people had returned to Kosovo by October 1999 in one of the fastest spontaneous repatriations ever seen, at the same time approximately 200 000 people, mainly Serbs and Roma, had left Kosovo heading to Serbia, Vojvodina and Montenegro.

3. The majority of the displaced population were children and women, many of whom have been uprooted several times during the previous year. According to UNICEF estimates, over 500 000 children in the region have been affected and require assistance.

4. During the time of the refugee exodus from Kosovo in March-June 1999, the humanitarian relief effort focused on refugee and internally displaced children in camps, collective centres and host families in neighbouring countries. The first priority was to ensure that children had access to the assistance provided by operating agencies: food, water, shelter, and medical help. Within a few days of the start of NATO action, UNICEF, the main agency concerned with the children, had broadened its action to cover affected local children by providing disinfectant, clothes, shoes and hygiene items.

5. Schooling was considered as one of the main priorities, and it was introduced in June 1999 in nearly all camps in Albania and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", thanks to co-operation between UNICEF and local authorities, and with the help of refugee Kosovar teachers. UNICEF distributed education kits (school materials and supplies), and supported the printing of schoolbooks.

6. At the same time UNICEF promoted the creation of child-friendly environments, providing space and facilities for children’s educational, recreational and psycho-social activities and services, including health care, also for local communities. Recreation kits (sports equipment and games) were distributed in the camps.

7. In the post-crisis stage, all agencies operating in the region concerned with refugee and displaced children, combined humanitarian assistance with long-term development objectives in seeking to rehabilitate national capacities, provide for educational and social services, and ensure children’s rights. To this end, UNICEF has fostered close partnership with government counterparts, local and international non-governmental organisations and bilateral and multilateral organisations.

8. A year after the start of NATO action in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the programmes designed for children focus on health and psychological care, education, recreation, development, protection and general welfare of children and women throughout the region.

2.       Situation of refugee and displaced children outside Kosovo

Albania

9. According to UNHCR estimates, some 3 000 Kosovar refugees still remain in that country, many of them children and adolescents. As international aid was significantly reduced after the return of the majority of refugees to Kosovo, widespread poverty, crime and violence between those who have stayed, inevitably affecting children, have been manifest.

10. UNICEF has helped to re-craft children’s community services for both refugee and local children in some of the most vulnerable areas. Timely mobilisation of hitherto poorly organised civil society has helped avert epidemics and potential nutritional problems.

11. There is no separate justice system for young offenders in Albania and 270 minors, many of them Kosovar refugees, are currently held in adult jails.

12. An estimated 30 000 young Albanian women, many of them Kosovar minors are working as prostitutes in Western Europe, some of them forcibly trafficked from Albania.

"The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

13. Refugee camps were closed in December 1999, but there remain some 20 000 refugees living with host families and in ten collective centres. 85 per cent of refugee children of primary school age are enrolled and infrastructure assistance has been provided to local education facilities.

14. UNICEF has held training workshops for teaching staff on how to integrate disabled children into normal programmes.

15. A great number of refugee children have received psycho-social support in the form of counselling and group work aimed at helping trauma victims.

16. UNICEF is supporting the training of Roma teachers.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

17. Some 24 000 Kosovar refugees remain in the country. The situation is particularly difficult, as the country is still struggling to accommodate the older caseload of IDPs, refugees and socially vulnerable groups.

18. UNICEF is particularly active in this area, working closely with government counterparts at the local and central levels, and with local and international NGOs to provide targeted assistance to the most needy children.

Serbia and Montenegro

19. The number of displaced persons who had fled before and during the NATO action was increased by the large number of IDPs fleeing Kosovo after the end of the armed conflict. Their situation is particularly difficult, as Serbia is overflowing with refugees and IDPs from earlier conflicts.

20. The internally displaced children are in principle integrated into the Yugoslav educational, social and health systems, although some problems in this respect have been reported in different areas.

21. Many schools are still occupied by IDPs and refugees, which diminishes the already very low educational capacity in the FRY. UNHCR and UNICEF have been assisting in rehabilitation and re-adaptation of school facilities throughout the country. UNICEF has also been providing school kits containing desks, blackboards and other materials. A group of Serb educators, assisted by UNICEF, is reviewing the textbooks for Kosovar Serb students.

3.       Kosovo – main areas of concern

Education

22. The efforts to rehabilitate school buildings and improve the quality of education services continue. School furniture, teaching aids and school kits are still being distributed.

23. Local authorities are supported in the provision of textbooks. 87 school textbook titles in the Albanian language have been printed and distributed. More than 20 other are forthcoming.

24. UNICEF has organised a workshop to provide models and standards for school construction in which Kosovar architects and educators participated.

25. UNICEF and UNHCR have organised education at first in tends for around 600 children belonging to the Kosovar Ashkalija minority. They have not had any education for the last ten years.

26. There are continued programmes to promote child rights issues, tolerance and respect for minorities, and to provide adequate educational and survival messages.

Health

27. Programmes for the prevention and control of childhood diseases (for example measles) have made great progress. Emergency health kits have been distributed throughout the territory, and cash grants for fuel and stoves to winterise maternity rooms have been given.

28. UNICEF is implementing an AIDS awareness programme, which will target adolescents.

29. A number of psycho-social assistance programmes for children are being pursued.

30. Support for health care services, provision of vaccines, essential drugs and basic medical supplies and restoration of the vaccine cold chain as well as provision of general health and hygiene education have to be continued. In this field UNICEF, working in close co-operation with other agencies and partners, is strengthening operational capacity of primary health care facilities.

Child protection

31. Criminality among adolescents is one of the major problems in Kosovo, and the children of the Balkans region remain the most endangered children in Europe. UNICEF has launched a special police-training programme. Moreover, UNICEF has elaborated plans for a referral system for juveniles in conflict with the law along with a rapid response unit to support the policing of juveniles.

Mine awareness

32. More than a million mine awareness posters and leaflets were distributed to returning Kosovar refugees.

33. Numerous psycho-social projects support child landmine casualties at Pristina hospital.

4.       Conclusions

34. In the longer term the action for children’s welfare should include the formulation of policy in the field of health, education and welfare of children, and the establishment of local administration and infrastructure capable to implement it.

35. Fostering integration and multiethnic tolerance should be pursued, especially in view of recent disturbances. In this context, the question of Roma children should be given particular attention.

36. Therefore, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography fully supports the recommendation to establish joint action on the part of all Council of Europe member states, in co-operation with the relevant international organisations.

37. The Committee believes that the Council of Europe should play a more active role in the region and contribute to the proposed joint action in its areas of competence, and in particular in education.

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Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee (Doc. 8675).

Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to committee: Doc. 8218 and Doc. 8382, Ref. 2326, 4.11.98 and Ref. 2383, 26.4.99.

Draft opinion approved by the committee on 4 April 2000.

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


1 See Doc. 8675