One last chance One last chance

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One last chance One last chance
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One last chance
The race against winter
Yet another exodus
United Nations
High Commissioner
for Refugees
Why Kosovo and not Kabul?
Question: What was the world’s largest war this year?
once more raised troubling and legitimate concerns among
Answer: In a conflict virtually unnoticed by the outside
aid organizations about how and why the ‘international
world, Ethiopian and Eritrean armies, each over one
community’ responds to different humanitarian crises.
quarter-million soldiers strong, fought over a meaning-
The world’s most powerful nations, which are also
less piece of land. Tens of thousands of people were
the major donors, will always commit more funds and
killed, wounded or captured and at least 600,000 civil-
human resources to crises which may affect their own
ians were displaced.
national interests. Hence Kosovo and not Kabul.
In an era of ever tightening budgets, donors have also
apparently intractable prob-
persons and
lems such as Afghanistan.
local Afghans
In one important sign of
awaiting a
this, governments increasing-
ly ‘earmark’ their contribu-
distribution in
tions to organizations such as
the devastated
UNHCR, funding high-visi-
Afghan capital
bility ‘popular’ crises such as
of Kabul.
Kosovo and ignoring more
difficult situations.
Redressing the balance
Question: What was the world’s most brutal war of recent
will be difficult. The world community, through U.N.
bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
Answer: For eight years virtually the entire population
must refocus its attention on longtime trouble spots like
of Sierra Leone has been uprooted, mutilated, raped or
Africa. Greater emphasis must be placed on crisis pre-
abducted. At least 50,000 persons were killed.
vention and long-term economic and social develop-
Question: What is the world’s largest current refugee
But countries and regional organizations in those
Answer: There are still more than 2.6 million Afghan
same areas must also redouble their commitment to
refugees, but UNHCR’s programs to help them have
effectively tackle their own problems.
been virtually bankrupt for months because of lack of
donor interest.
If these show progress then the rest of the world may
follow. Which is why recent home-grown attempts to
The general public could be forgiven for answering
solve wars in the Horn of Africa, Congo and Sierra
“Kosovo” to all of the above questions, but the unprece-
Leone, however tentative and faltering, may eventually
dented news coverage and military, political and financial
bring some good news for hundreds of thousands of
commitments pledged to solve the Kosovo problem have
uprooted people.
Ray Wilkinson
French editor:
Mounira Skandrani
Judith Kumin, Ron Redmond, Kris
Janowski, Paul Stromberg, Vesna
Petkovic, Diane Goldberg, Wendy
Editorial assistant:
Virginia Zekrya
Photo department:
Anneliese Hollmann,
Anne Kellner
WB Associés - Paris
Françoise Peyroux
Anne-Marie Le Galliard
John O’Connor, Frédéric Tissot
N ° 1 1 6
English and French editions printed
in Switzerland by ATAR SA,
Circulation: 206,000 in English,
French, German, Italian, Japanese,
Spanish, Arabic, Russian and
ISSN 0252-791 X
Cover: Villagers who fled their
town in late March return to
their destroyed homes in Kosovo.
By Fernando del Mundo and Ray Wilkinson
A history of Balkan events.
Serbs do not forget. By Tim Judah
The war by numbers.
Kosovo refugees arrive
in Kukes, Albania. The
majority of nearly
450,000 people who sought
refuge in Albania passed
through this tiny border
The first exodus
Kosovo’s flight started in 1990.
Start of the Kosovo conflict. By Nicholas Morris
Europe’s newest exiles.
All welcome.
Ethnic Serbs who
fled their homes in
the town of Pec
fearing ethnic Albanian
reprisals, seek protection at a
nearby KFOR checkpoint.
A talk with UNHCR’s special envoy.
Military-aid cooperation. By Cedric Thornberry
Going back to Kosovo. By Fernando del Mundo
Saving lives
Charity suffers while saving others.
Africa suffers in silence. By Peter Kessler
P.O. Box 2500
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Is humanitarian aid distribution fair?
Refugees reserves the right to edit all
articles before publication. Articles
and photos not covered by copyright ©
may be reprinted without prior
permission. Please credit UNHCR and
the photographer. Glossy prints and
slide duplicates of photographs not
covered by copyright © may be made
available for professional use only.
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Kosovo’s race against winter.
UNHCR - Mapping Unit
Refugees is published by the Public
Information Section of the United
Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees. The opinions expressed by
contributors are not necessarily those
of UNHCR. The designations and
maps used do not imply the expression
of any opinion or recognition on the
part of UNHCR concerning the legal
status of a territory or of its authorities.
minors from the
Congo in a Tanzanian
camp. There were widespread
fears that the plight of
African refugees was ignored
during the Kosovo crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of Kosovars have returned home,
but the approaching winter is a new enemy
By Fernando del Mundo and Ray Wilkinson
sman Hysenlekaj found the
body of his 83-year-old father
stuffed into the well of the
family house at the foot of the
Mountain of the Damned.
In his frantic search for the old man after
he returned from Albania in June,
Osman had, at first, paid no attention to
his surroundings. But now, in the fading
Turn to page 6 Ã
Civilians who were herded aboard
special ‘refugee trains’ walk along
the track from the train to a
nearby border crossing at Blace
and safety in Macedonia.
Blace border crossing, FYR of Macedonia early April 1999.
à light of a pleasant summer evening, he
looked again at his father’s corpse and then
at the once graceful stone house in the village of Stralc i Epërm in western Kosovo.
The building had been reduced to a
charred shell. His 40 sheep and 10 cows
had long since disappeared and the nearby
fields were wilted and empty.
Osman cleaned out a barn to shelter his
wife and children and, a few days later,
erected a tent he received from UNHCR
under a nearby tree to make the blistering
summer heat a little more bearable for his
family. “All I know is that I have to get on
with my life,” he says now with no obvious
sign of bitterness. “I am ready to work and
take on any job, but I need help from God
and a miracle to get us through this winter.”
The Kosovar, like many of the hundreds
of thousands of ethnic Albanians who fled
their homes earlier this year, said he had
already given thanks to the Almighty once
for delivering his family so quickly from
the nightmare that had engulfed the region in spring.
It began on a Sunday, March 28, when a
local gypsy came to the family home with
an ominous message: they had one hour to
leave, one step ahead of a military sweep of
the region by Serbian forces. Hysenlekaj
and his two sons escaped to the snow-covered hills and eventually made their way
to the neighboring Yugoslav republic of
Montenegro and then to Albania.
His wife, Sanise, and four other children clambered aboard a tractor trailer and,
to the jeers of policemen telling them to
“Go to Albania, Clinton is waiting for you,”
lumbered slowly toward the frontier and
the town of Mamurasi. Seventy years ago,
Hysenlekaj’s father had sheltered in the
same town to escape an earlier Serb
pogrom. This time, the patriarch decided
to stay home.
On that bitter March day Hysenlekaj senior became one of the first of an estimated
11,000 people who were deliberately slaughtered during the following several weeks in
what became one of the most dramatic and
complex humanitarian crises in history.
There had been far larger refugee
flights, even in the recent past: nearly two
million Kurds were uprooted in the wake
of the Gulf War. There were faster exoduses: in 1994, more than one million
Rwandan Hutus flooded across the border
into Zaire in just a few days.
Nevertheless, the Kosovo emergency
The seeds of unrest and
conflict in the Balkans can
be traced back to at least
the end of the last century
when the then major
powers in the region met
to redraw the area’s
frontiers, with little regard
for ethnic composition.
Following are some
historical and
contemporary highlights
surrounding the Kosovo
The world’s Great Powers
redraw the map of the
Balkans at the Congress of
Berlin after years of conflict
in the region and increasing
tension with Russia. Three
new countries, Serbia,
Montenegro and Romania,
are established to ease
international tensions but
the wishes of the local
populations are ignored.
Two Balkan wars are fought
involving all the regional
powers and Serbs,
Romanians, Bulgarians,
Greeks and Albanians join
forces to expel Ottoman
forces from the Balkans
after several centuries of
June 28, 1914
was unique. The first of nearly one million refugees began fleeing the region
within hours of the March 24 start of a 78day NATO bombing campaign. Yet within
three months, in a dramatic reversal of
fortune, most of those who fled returned
home to shattered villages and a devastated province. Perhaps never before had
so many people left and then returned in
such a short time.
Never before had a refugee crisis been
so interlaced with big-power politics, involving virtually every important capital
in the world and a military campaign by
the most powerful military alliance,
NATO, ever assembled. And never before
had what all the major players insisted was
fundamentally a humanitarian problem
produced such a profound aftershock.
In a gruesome knock-on effect, the re- Ã
Archduke Franz Ferdinand,
heir to the AustroHungarian throne, is shot
dead by a Serb assassin in
the Bosnian capital of
Sarajevo, precipitating the
outbreak of World War
December 1, 1918
Yugoslavia, “the Kingdom of
Serbs, Croats and Slovenes”
is created from territories
formerly occupied by the
old Turkish and Austrian
October 24, 1944
Josip Broz Tito’s communist
partisans liberate Belgrade
and establish a communist
regime in Yugoslavia.
April 24, 1987
Serbs launch their first
major protest in the
town of Kosovo Polje
against alleged persecution
by the province’s majority
Belgrade ends Kosovo’s
autonomous status and an
estimated 350,000 ethnic
Albanians seek asylum in
Europe in the next decade.
June 25, 1991
Slovenia and Croatia
declare independence from
March 3, 1992
Bosnia and Herzegovina
proclaims independence,
but Bosnian Serbs lay siege
to Sarajevo and overrun 70
percent of the country.
November 21, 1995
Dayton Peace Agreement
signed to end hostilities and
pave the way for the
eventual return home of
millions of people
displaced by the conflict.
March, 1998
After years of rising
tensions, fighting erupts in
Kosovo between the
majority Albanians and
Serbs and within months
some 350,000 people have
been displaced or fled
October 27, 1998
Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic agrees
to a cease-fire and partial
pull-out of Yugoslav forces
and the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in
Europe sends the first of
2,000 ‘verifiers’ to monitor
the agreement.
February, 1999
Talks are held in
Rambouillet, France, but
discussions break down and
tensions and repressions
rise again in Kosovo.
March 24, 1999
After repeated warnings,
NATO launches its 78-day
air war. Within three days,
ethnic Albanians begin to
arrive in neighboring
Albania and the former
Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia in huge
numbers, walking, on
tractor-trailers and by car.
Authorities expel thousands
of persons by special
‘refugee trains’ to
Macedonia, virtually
emptying all major towns,
such as Pristina, of
April-May 1999
International agencies,
governments and a special
humanitarian task force
from NATO called AFOR
begin to construct dozens
of camps for refugees in
anticipation they will spend
many months in exile. Some
444, 600 refugees flee to
Albania, 244,500 to
Macedonia and 69,900 to
Montenegro. Because of
political pressures on the
Macedonian government,
more than 90,000 Albanians
are airlifted to 29 countries
for temporary safety.
June 3, 1999
Yugoslavia accepts a peace
plan requiring withdrawal of
all forces from Kosovo and
the entry of peacekeepers
under a U.N. mandate.
June 12, 1999
Russian and NATO forces
enter Kosovo, followed the
next day by the first
contingent of UNHCR and
other humanitarian
June 14, 1999
Despite appeals by NATO
and UNHCR to be patient,
refugees begin to flood
back into Kosovo, and in
one of the fastest refugee
returns in history 600,000
return to the shattered
province within the first
three weeks. As the
Albanians stream home,
however, around 200,000
Serbs and Roma head the
other way, seeking safety in
Serbia and Montenegro in
yet another new refugee
June, 1999
UNHCR opens offices in
seven locations in Kosovo
and under a new U.N. civil
administration, backed by
tens of thousands of NATO
troops, begins the work of
helping hundreds of
thousands of people rebuild
their homes and find access
to food, water and
electricity with the harsh
Balkan winter fast
Aerial photo of one Kosovo village shows 80 percent of the buildings destroyed.
à turn of the ethnic Albanians triggered the
next of a seemingly endless number of population movements in the Balkans, this
time when around 200,000 frightened
Serbs and Roma (gypsies) fled for their lives
as revenge killing and other atrocities
swept the province.
NATO moved the first of more than
50,000 soldiers into the prostrate province
and the United Nations assembled a civilian administration, the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK),
to oversee everything from garbage collection and street lighting to the re-establishment of a police force, judges and jails,
from the reintegration of hundreds of
thousands of people to the large-scale reconstruction of an entire region.
“Kosovo will be the most challenging,
the most complex peace implementation
operation ever undertaken by the U.N. system or the international community in
modern times,” said former Swedish Prime
Minister Carl Bildt who had earlier run a
similar but more limited international operation in neighboring Bosnia. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said putting
Kosovo together again would probably take
at least 10 years. The estimated cost could
run as high as $30 billion.
Dennis McNamara, UNHCR’s special
envoy in the region and Kofi Annan’s
deputy special representative in charge of
humanitarian affairs in UNMIK, said since
day one of the crisis, it had been a constant
race against time for aid agencies; first to
help the fleeing refugees find sanctuary,
then to help them return home and currently to help them survive the next
Balkan winter.
Images from U.S. sources, taken from
high-flying reconnaissance aircraft showed
more than 67,000 buildings out of 271,314
surveyed had been damaged or destroyed.
A separate initial assessment of villages indicated widespread destruction of schools
and health centers, agricultural production halted, the availability of food dramatically reduced and water supplies polluted by ‘a range of materials, including
human as well as animal corpses.’
Damage in the province was very uneven. While some areas escaped virtually
unscathed, others were almost entirely destroyed. When UNHCR’s Maki Shinohara
visited the small village of Cabra near
Kosovska Mitrovica she discovered every
one of the 175 houses “turned into piles of
rubble” after being deliberately torched
and then bulldozed. “Some men have
returned during the day, living in blue
UNHCR tents wedged between the heaps
of rubble, wandering around the once
prosperous homes, school and clinic,” she
But within weeks of the large-scale return to Kosovo, the province came back to
life as people jump started their old lives,
clearing rubble from destroyed homes, salvaging whatever was left in the fields, reopening shops and starting open air markets with goods from neighboring Albania and Macedonia.
To meet the approaching threat of winter UNHCR and European and American government agencies rushed 56,000
shelter kits which include plastic sheeting, timber and tools to Kosovo allowing
families to weatherproof at least one room
in a destroyed house before bad weather
descends in November and December.
UNHCR planned distribution of 30,000
tents, 60,000 stoves, more than one million blankets, 550,000 mattresses and
183,000 hygiene and kitchen sets.
Japan offered more than 500 prefabricated and self-contained family shelters
“The Serbs are not a
forgive and forget nation”
Albanian refugees have successfully returned home, but that is
not the end of the affair in Kosovo
By Tim Judah
As far as refugees are concerned Kosovo has turned out to be the most grotesque
of paradoxes. A simultaneous triumph and
Most have already returned. Despite
criticisms from some, they had been looked
after in what could only be described as
five star camps — if you want to compare
them with other refugee centers. Ninetytwo thousand were evacuated and cared
for in third countries.
Inside the province all the internally
displaced have also returned. Many of their
homes were burned and looted, but the
strength of Kosovo Albanian extended
family networks means far fewer will have
to live in collective centers than is the average elsewhere.
Another point in favor of a quick return
to normal is that Kosovar modern history
has meant that almost every family has
members working abroad. Anyone who
knows Kosovo will also know that while
families tend to have large compounds the
equally large houses are always in a state
of permanent construction because bits
and pieces are built as money filters in from
relatives abroad.
This means that many Kosovars, unlike in the west, know how to and indeed
do build their own houses. If their house
is burned, most people will simply start rebuilding. With extra money expected from
the European Union and other sources, it
is more than likely UNHCR’s role in helping these build to rebuild their lives will
be far smaller than initially anticipated.
So much for Kosovo’s refugee triumph.
The tragedy lies in Kosovo’s historic culture of revenge. The return of the Albanians has led to the flight of the Serbs, many
of whom may well have approved of the
original expulsion of the Albanians. It was
revenge, they argued, for the Albanians
having caused the NATO bombardment of
Yugoslavia, so NATO could look after them.
Since NATO did look after them, and
in a far more dramatic way than the Serbs
could have imagined, they now find themselves paying the price of being Kosovo
Serbs. Fine words about multiculturalism
interest nobody here and the history of Serbian-Albanian relations in Kosovo this century has been nothing else but an endless
cycle of domination and revenge.
Neither NATO or the U.N. can break
that cycle, but inevitably it falls to UNHCR
to pick up the pieces. Since NATO tanks
first rolled into Kosovo on June 12, some
200,000 Serbs, gypsies and others have fled.
Still, Bernard Kouchner, the head of the new
U.N. administration in Kosovo, has appealed
to the perhaps 25,000 remaining Serbs to
stay. But is that a responsible policy?
As far as UNHCR is concerned there is
no argument. In the former Yugoslavia that
which proved their worth when a major
earthquake destroyed large parts of the
city of Kobe several years ago.
“The return of refugees went relatively smoothly,” said Dennis McNamara. “And we should have few problems with long-term reconstruction.
But our current headache is that one
step in between—emergency rehabilitation. The challenge in the next few
months is going to be getting Kosovo’s
population through the winter into
next spring when it will be an entirely
new ballgame.”
question was first posed by Serb forces in
the summer of 1992 in Bosnia. “Bring buses
to get these Muslims and Croats out,” they
told UNHCR. The organization agonised.
Should it help save people whose lives were
in danger, the price being that it served the
interests of the ethnic cleansers? The answer then, and ever since, has been that
lives come first.
So, yet again, UNHCR is having to help
desperate people flee, this time Serbs. But,
unlike for the Albanians, there will be no
bombing to secure their return.
Some think, but may find it politically
incorrect to say so publicly, that if the Serbs
are cleansed from Kosovo then that is the
end of the matter. After all, Greeks do not
yearn to return to their ancestral homes
in deepest Anatolia, any more than Turks
do to return to Thrace.
If they do harbor such thoughts, they
may find themselves proved wrong, if not
in the near future then in decades yet to
come. Aleksa Djilas, the Serbian historian
and political commentator says: “The possibility of revenge increases the desire. So
while today Albanians wreak their revenge, the day may yet come when Serbs
can wreak theirs.”
The way the Serbs have lost Kosovo
means that tomorrow the Serbs will have
no chance to get it back. But what will happen in 10 or 20 years? Just over a decade
ago, no one could have predicted the shape
of the world as it is today.
Djilas says that the spirit of revanchism
may grow. “Of course,” he adds, “I would
not support such a thing, but Serbs are not
exactly a forgive and forget nation. If they
have remembered the 1389 defeat for 610
years, why not this one?”
Tim Judah is a journalist and author of:
“The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia” (Yale University Press,
1997). B
Kosovo is considered the holyland by
most Serbs, ironically because of a battle
there that their ancestors lost in 1389 to
Moslem Turks. In the following centuries,
legends flourished around the defeat until it was transformed into a mythical victory fought on behalf of the Christian
world against invading Moslem hordes.
But by the late 1980s, in an estimated
population of around two million, ethnic
Albanians who mostly follow Islam outnumbered Serbs by a ratio of around nineto-one. When Slobodan Milosevic inflamed
Serbian partisan passions by revoking
Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989, he set the stage
for a showdown between the two groups.
While the outside world focused its attention on the violent breakup of the Yugoslav Federation in Slovenia, Croatia and
Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, the
fuse was also running in Kosovo.
Between 1989 and 1998, as repression
became widespread, some 350,000 Albanian Kosovars sought sanctuary in Europe.
Widespread fighting erupted in March,
1998 and within months another 350,000
civilians were displaced inside the province
or fled abroad.
UNHCR operated a $28 million program with 84 personnel, helping a total of
400,000 people but in late March of this
year, along with other international organizations, it was forced to pull out of the
Kosovo refugees pass a KFOR tank column on their return to the village of Sopi.
province ahead of the NATO air campaign.
“We, like everyone else at the time, not anticipated a deliberate, well-planned in Rambouillet, France, would piece tothought that if it came down to a shooting policy to virtually cleanse the entire gether a face-saving compromise.
match between NATO and Belgrade, it province as Serbian authorities now began
would last for a few days, and we would to do. Nor did anyone else, neither major A CONUNDRUM
soon be back in operation,” recalled UN- governments such as the United States,
Nicholas Morris, who was then UNHCR’s Fernando del Mundo who was France and Britain, NATO or the bulk of HCR’s special envoy in the region, highworking in Kosovo at the time.
Balkan specialists. Until the last moment, lighted a conundrum which the agency
The bombing campaign lasted for 78 in fact, it had been hoped that peace talks faced at this juncture: key western governdays. Nearly one million people
ments were urging UNHCR
flooded out of the province into
to prepare to implement
neighboring Albania, the forRambouillet only days bemer Yugoslav Republic of Macefore the exodus began. It is
donia and Serbia’s sister repubunlikely, Morris argued (see
lic of Montenegro. Several hunpage 18), that these same
dred thousand people were
governments who were subdisplaced within the province,
sequently highly critical of
hiding in the mountains or
UNHCR’s lack of readiness
trekking from village to village,
when refugees did begin to
sheltering for weeks and
arrive in neighboring counmonths in basements and other
tries, would have responded
to a request for preparations
UNHCR had emergency
predicated on the failure of
stockpiles in the region for
their own peace efforts.
A German soldier with KFOR displays a deadly booby trap mine.
around 100,000 people, but had
Refugee crises are often
defined by one particular moment or one
particular incident. Kosovo became embedded in the world’s conscience with the
arrival in the former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia of the so-called refugee trains
and the incarceration of thousands of fleeing Kosovars in a nondescript open field at
a border crossing called Blace.
Tens of thousands of Kosovar civilians
were packed onto the trains by Serbian authorities from the province capital of Pristina and other stations for the short journey
to the border. Inevitably
the trains and long lines of
shocked people carrying
only a few hastily gathered
possessions were compared, if incorrectly, with
the wagons which hauled
Jews to the gas chamber
during World War II. The
word ‘genocide’ began to be
used indiscriminately.
The Macedonian government, fearful that a
massive influx of ethnic Albanians could
destabilize its own fragile ethnic mix, at one
point kept thousands of new arrivals in an
open field with virtually no medical assistance, little food, and limited access for aid
Under growing international pressure
and under cover of darkness, the authorities, in an equally controversial move to
the initial detention, suddenly bundled the
refugees on flights to Turkey and shipped
others to Albania and to nearby hastily
constructed camps. An
unknown number of
people died in that open
field but by morning the
only thing left was the
sad debris of mass flight—
sodden blankets, ripped
clothing, a few children’s
toys, a few pieces of
flimsy shelter, and the
wretched smells left by
thousands of terrified
Perhaps never
before had so
many people
left and then
returned in such
a short time.
B The most recent census was taken in
Kosovo in 1991 and listed a population of
1,956,196. It was boycotted by the majority
of ethnic Albanians and was regarded at best
as a ‘guesstimate.’
B The ethnic Albanian population was
thought to be around 1.7 million people and
the Serbs around 200,000 with far smaller
numbers of gypsies and other minorities.
B After abolition of Kosovo’s autonomous status in 1989, around 350,000
ethnic Albanians left Kosovo and applied for
asylum in western Europe.
B When the latest crisis began in 1998
another 100,000 people left the region.
B NATO began a 78-day air campaign on
March 24.
B A total of 848,100 ethnic Albanians
fled or were expelled, including 444,600 to
Albania, 244,500 to Macedonia and 69,900
to Montenegro.
B An estimated 45,000 refugees arrived
in Macedonia on April 2 in the largest
24-hour exodus during the crisis.
B A total of 91,057 refugees were
airlifted from Macedonia to 29 countries
as part of the Humanitarian Evacuation
B Within three weeks of the signing of
a peace accord, more than 600,000 refugees
had flooded back into Kosovo in one of the
fastest returns in modern history.
B In the same period an estimated
180,000 Serbs and Roma fled in the opposite direction to Serbia proper.
B One official British report said at least
11,000 Kosovars had been killed by security
authorities during the conflict.
B UNHCR estimated at least 67,000 and
possibly twice as many homes had been
destroyed or badly damaged during the
Blace field crystalized many aspects of
the crisis. The world at large, including
governments, saw for the first time the
sheer brutality and the careful planning
behind the cleansing of Kosovo. Even
though the destruction of the city of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo, the detention
camps and the mass rapes of Bosnia had
occurred only a few years earlier, there was
an incomprehension, an unwillingness to
admit that “This is happening again in Europe, in 1999.”
In addition to not forecasting the exodus, there was also now the perceived unreadiness of aid agencies once the influx
began and their inability to deliver emergency supplies quickly enough, to build
camps for the exiles and UNHCR’s failure
to protect refugees at Blace field.
UNHCR admitted shortcomings in
some areas including not getting more personnel and aid on the ground quickly
enough, but Assistant High Commissioner
Soren Jessen-Petersen insisted there had
also been a lot of scape-goating and sheer
ignorance in play.
At Blace, for instance, while UNHCR
was criticized in some quarters for its alleged timidity, at least one government
insisted behind the scenes that the agency
tone down its public statements and even
asked for the recall of one of its spokespersons. Humanitarian considerations at the
time were less important than political
efforts to stabilize a shaky government.
Seasoned journalists who wrote articles
critical of UNHCR’s emergency response
later admitted they were unaware of the
constraints placed on the agency by a cumbersome financing setup; it has no ready
reserves to meet a new crisis and must appeal to donors for additional funds for
emergencies such as Kosovo, causing inevitable delays. To some degree UNHCR
can only react as quickly as new funding
is put in place.
And ironically, though Kosovo was the
most reported humanitarian story in history, rarely has UNHCR been so underfunded during its own 50-year life.
“After the international community
spent billions of dollars on a military cam-
A doctor with Médecins du Monde helps ethnic Albanians at Morini border crossing.
paign which was intended to pave the way
for the return of refugees, it is a pity they
are now not prepared to spend what we
have asked for and see the refugees back
to their villages,” Jessen-Petersen said at
one point in the crisis. “We need about 10
million dollars a week and are living hand
to mouth.”
J. Brian Atwood, administrator of the
U.S. Agency for International Development
at the time gave his assessment: “UNHCR
was not doing its job in the early days. They
didn’t have the resources. They didn’t have
the people. I say that their management
failure was the direct result of our failure
in providing them with the resources.” Financial cuts forced on the U.N. had
“wreaked serious damage which was unconscionable” Atwood said.
Even as traditional government donors
severely trimmed their financial support
for UNHCR (at the height of the exodus
Italy had officially contributed $800,000
to the agency. The Italian public donated
more than ten times that amount privately), they channeled unprecedented
amounts to government-to-government,
or bilateral projects.
The Italians were the first to establish a
camp in the northern Albanian town of
Kukes and tens of thousands of refugees
benefited from this and other government
run projects.
But this type of assistance produced its
own headaches. UNHCR was mandated
to coordinate aid and protection for the
refugees, but often was among the last to
know about a new program or camp. This
lack of coordination produced waste, overlap and confusion. In what in other circumstances might be comical, one European government established a camp—
reaped the media payoff for its actions—but
then its off icials
simply disappeared
one night without
informing any
other aid agency. A
private organization established another camp in
Kukes, forbade
UNHCR or any
other officials from
refugees’ and refused to attend
agency coordination meetings.
“Perhaps one of the most fundamental
mistakes we made was to underestimate
the enormity of the stakes on the table,”
one senior aid official said later. “We knew
of course that Kosovo was a huge humanitarian crisis, but the political and military
stakes were even higher. In that environment every success, and every mistake was
magnified. And while everyone was quick
enough to take credit they were even
quicker to pass on the blame. We were amateurs in this game.”
satellite links with
the town. Hundreds of media
stars, aid officials,
NATO officials,
and celebrities descended on the
area, renting seedy
downtown apartments from locals
for $3,000 a
A down at heel
hangout, perhaps
appropriately called Bar America, became
the unofficial hub of the whole affair where
swaggering guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army kept journalists waiting for
days promising trips into ‘the occupied territories’ and where local gangs were overheard wheeling and dealing alleged white
slavery deals among the refugees. Unemployment disappeared as locals became
drivers, translators and odd-job men. “It
was Christmas in Kukes for the locals,” one
aid official said. “They had never seen such
wealth, even though it was generated by a
refugee crisis.”
Thousands of tractors, some without
tires and running on steel rims, carrying
several families at a time swamped the little town. The Italians established their
high-tech camp near a disused mine and
officials and troops from the United Arab
Emirates built, by refugee standards, a
sumptuous camp with a hospital which
would grace any town in the western
A rickety fleet of buses and army trucks
moved tens of thousands of people away
from the sensitive border zone to spots further inside Albania. It was not a pretty sight,
but the convoy system worked amazingly
well. Many other Kosovars moved in with
local families or into seven camps on the
fringes of Kukes and ignored entreaties
from UNHCR to move out of range of Serb
artillery. They wanted to be close to the border, they said, to reunite split families and
return to Kosovo as quickly as possible.
“Kosovo will be the
most challenging, the
most complex peace
operation ever
undertaken by the
U.N. system.”
If Blace seared the Kosovo crisis into the
world’s conscience, the town of Kukes is
destined to enter refugee folklore, like Sarajevo and Srebrenica before it, as a vivid
symbol of human tragedy, but also perhaps,
ultimately of hope.
Northern Albania is a starkly beautiful place of wild mountains and deep fjordstyle lakes. Communist-era planners
scarred the landscape with a series of fivestorey concrete apartment blocks at Kukes
to house workers for nearby mines which
have since closed. It is an area of feuding,
gun-toting mafias, clandestine armies,
smuggling and almost universal unemployment. A twisting, crumbling road
links Kukes to Morini, a seedy and sleepy
border post with Kosovo.
More than 440,000 refugees escaped
into Albania, virtually all of them through
Morini and Kukes, a town of just 28,000
people. It is difficult to imagine any small
European or American town handling a
sudden influx of destitute and terrified
refugees around sixteen times its own population, but Kukes did so with a degree of
One of the most remote places in Europe, Kukes suddenly became a nerve center for the world. Dozens of international
news companies established permanent
That seemed highly unlikely at the
time, but as government and agencies
geared up for a huge building program to
house nearly one million refugees through
the winter, an agreement was struck between NATO and Belgrade. The refugees
were urged to stay where they were until
Kosovo could be made safe, but they again Ã
à waved away the warnings and within days
headed home as fast as they could go.
“The scene at Morini crossing was surreal,” said Kris Janowski of UNHCR as he
watched floods of Kosovars going home.
“Two gigantic red billboards with skull and
bones painted on them in black warned
against the danger of landmines. Albani-
Kosovo’s first exodus
ans just flashed a ‘V’ for victory sign and
went home. ‘We don’t mind the mines,’ said
one old man, ‘as long as the Serbs have
who fled in 1990, was refused asylum by
the Swiss authorities, as were two of his
children who subsequently joined him.
Since then, he has been living precariously
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians had already
in Geneva on temporary permits, facing
left Kosovo before the world began paying attention
the periodic threat of expulsion and fillSerbian security forces came calling for province shortly after Slobodan Milosevic ing menial jobs to support his family.
He is both bemused and full of irony
Gashi after the young Kosovar had joined abolished its autonomous status within
an underground political organization and the Yugoslav Federation in 1989 and be- about the different treatment afforded his
publicly demonstrated against alleged gov- gan a crackdown against activists. During generation and the latest refugees. “When
ernment atrocities. Forewarned by his the next decade a massive exodus, mainly we talked about crackdowns and massacres
then, no one believed us,” he said in a rebrother, he made a dash for the border but to western Europe, took place.
Between 1980 and 1988 fewer than cent interview. “Before this NATO war,
his passport was confiscated along with all
the Europeans didn’t
of his foreign cash. A
know anything and
second clandestine atdidn’t want to know
tempt was more sucanything. Now their
cessful and he eventuattitude has changed
ally made it first to
180 degrees.” PersonSlovenia then Austria,
ally, he said, he felt “beGermany and finally
Switzerland. His wife
Gashi has not seen
and four children rehis wife and two other
mained behind in
children since he fled
nearly a decade ago
Gashi’s story could
from a village called
be the history of any
Peqan in the Suva
of the nearly one milReka area of Kosovo.
lion refugees displaced
They, too, were forced
earlier this year in the
to flee to Albania earprovince — with one
lier this year and their
major difference. His
family home was
showdown with SerEarly Kosovar asylum seekers at a reception center in Bavaria, Germany.
burned down. He has
bian authorities and
since talked with his
flight to freedom came
42,000 Yugoslav citizens applied for asy- wife by telephone and his family is well.
almost a decade earlier, in 1990.
He will return home before the end of
And whereas the plight of hundreds of lum in Europe, but between 1989 and 1998
thousands of Kosovars received unprece- the number jumped to 793,000 as the state the year to an uncertain future. “There
dented media and political exposure fol- imploded. An estimated 350,000 of them will be a few problems,” he acknowledges,
especially for two teenage children who
lowing the start of the NATO bombing were ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
Most migrated to Germany and have become used to the sophistication of
campaign earlier this year, the exodus of
huge numbers of their countrymen Switzerland where many already had rel- Geneva city living and who will now rethroughout the 1990s went largely unno- atives, but their welcome was far differ- turn to a simple village existence. “But
ent to the support and help the interna- there will be no regrets. Our future is in
ticed by the outside world.
The future of these ethnic Albanians tional community offered the 1999 exiles. Kosovo.”
During the 1990s fewer than 10 percent
The majority of those Kosovars who
from the earlier diaspora is far less clear
than that of the ‘1999 refugees’ the majority were recognized as refugees even though left at the same time as Gashi will also
of whom have already returned home. How repression in Kosovo continued to esca- eventually return to Kosovo. Most will
many of these older exiles want to go back? late. Indeed Kosovars were often labelled probably go willingly, and with NATO and
Will the countries where they are currently with unsavory reputations linked with the U.N. guaranteeing the province’s safety
and security, European governments will
living give them a choice? And how will smuggling and drug rings.
tell even those Kosovars who have started
they and their children reintegrate in a
new lives and want to stay that it is now
shattered society after so long away?
Ethnic Albanians began leaving the
Gashi, the young Kosovar locksmith time to go home. B
“Aid workers armed with hand counters quickly gave up attempts to monitor
the flood. Locally built Zastava cars which
normally seat four were often crammed
with nine people, roof racks groaning under the weight of mattresses and furniture
piled higher than the cars themselves.
Their chassis scraped along the road. A
U.N. aid station had been established handing out free food, but in the rush to get
home, vehicles just drove by.”
“When hundreds of thousands of
refugees like these decide they want to go
home, you just step aside and let them,”
one awed aid official said of the return.
“You go with the flow.”
The dangers officials warned about
were real enough. Dozens of people were
wounded and some killed in the first few
weeks, not only from the hundreds of thousands of mines which had been deliberately planted, but also from unexploded
ordnance, especially deadly cluster bombs,
dropped by NATO aircraft. Mine experts
said Kosovo was at least as dangerous as
Bosnia, Cambodia and Angola, and it could
take ‘a generation’ to make the region even
relatively safe.
As the crisis entered a new phase, all of
the parties involved faced problems and
headaches as large and complex as during
the emergency itself. In addition to mine
hazards and the race against winter, how
could the new U.N. administration successfully coax back the tens of thousands
of Serbs and gypsies in the face of continuing atrocities against their communities?
There was general agreement that a
lasting settlement would be impossible
without addressing the grievances of these
groups. And though it would be dangerous to draw too many parallels, it was discouraging to note that hundreds of thousands of persons displaced in other parts of
the former Yugoslavia, 500,000 in Serbia
and Montenegro, and many others in
Croatia and Bosnia, were still waiting to
return to their homes years after the shooting had stopped in those regions.
The bulk of the ethnic Albanians forced
to flee this year, even the more than 90,000
who were flown to 29 countries around the
world for temporary refuge, had returned
home by autumn or signalled their intention to do so. But what about the estimated
350,000 Kosovars who fled during the early
1990s? Would they be allowed to stay in
European countries where they had lived
for years or, if they returned home, how
successful would their reintegration be?
Aid is distributed to refugees returning to Pec, one of the most badly damaged
towns in Kosovo.
Carl Bildt noted that in the case of
Bosnia a formal and binding peace agreement, the Dayton accords, had been signed,
but there was no such framework to guide
Whatever the merits
of the bombing
campaign, it is clear
that once the crisis
began, the
operation was an
overall success.
the new administrators in Kosovo, making their task even more difficult.
The regional repercussions were immense. Serbia itself was crippled by the effects of the bombing campaign and a virtual international pariah. The political situations in Montenegro and Macedonia
were fragile. Albania remains the poorest
country in Europe. Bosnia hosted more
than 20,000 Kosovars and its own internal
problems remained sensitive to regional
developments. There were concerns that
once the spotlight shifted from Kosovo, the
international community might not deREFUGEES
liver the billions of dollars needed for humanitarian aid and long-term reconstruction.
In the broader humanitarian context,
how will the preference shown in Kosovo
for government-to-government programs
affect the coordination of future complex
emergencies and the funding of organizations such as UNHCR? What effect will
NATO’s role as both belligerent and major aid participant have on future humanitarian-military cooperation?
The debate over NATO’s decision to
bomb Kosovo will continue endlessly. Was
it the only way left or was it the case, to
use a Viet Nam-era analogy, of ‘destroying the village to save it?’
Whatever the merits of those arguments, however, it is clear that once the
crisis began, the humanitarian operation
was an overall success. Despite the initial
slowness in responding to the exodus and
despite other mistakes, nearly one million
refugees did receive assistance. Local governments and host families played a major part, of course, but the end result was
that there were fewer deaths than would
be expected among a huge and vulnerable
population which quickly received at least
minimal shelter, food and medical care as
they left Kosovo. And when they returned
home, the refugees showed a resilience and
strength of purpose to rebuild their homes
which will be a major building block in trying to patch together the shattered
province. B
Members of Slobodan
Milosevic’s Serbian Communist
Party demonstrate in Belgrade in 1989
‘defending Serb rights’ throughout the
country. It was rising nationalism and
Belgrade’s decision to end Kosovo’s
autonomous status that same year
which sparked the crisis between Serbs
and ethnic Albanians in the province.
Widespread fighting spread
throughout Kosovo in 1998 and
UNHCR helped an estimated 400,000
people inside the province during the
year. Here an aid official checks stocks
before distribution.
As Kosovar
refugees returned
home, around 200,000
Serbs and Roma (gypsies)
fled Kosovo fearing
revenge attacks. The
bulk of them, like the
Serbs pictured, sought
refuge in other parts of
Serbia itself though U.N.
officials had urged them
to stay in Kosovo.
The NATO air
campaign wreaked
widespread damage
throughout Serbia,
including against some
unintended targets. A
sanatorium in the town of
Surdulica which had been
renovated by UNHCR to
house refugees was
destroyed when three
missiles hit the building.
Sixteen refugees living
there were killed.
An accord
was signed in
early June ending
the fighting in
Kosovo. Within
weeks the bulk of
the refugees
returned home in
one of the swiftest
and largest
repatriations in
modern history.
B More than 67,000 Yugoslavs,
mainly ethnic Albanians, applied
for asylum in Europe in the first
six months of 1999.
B Cuban President Fidel Castro
offered to send 1,000 doctors to
Kosovo and other areas of the
former Yugoslavia.
B The European Union pledged
$500 million for each of the next
three years for Kosovo reconstruction.
B The World Food Program
announced plans to feed 2.5 million people in Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.
As a NATO bombing campaign
got underway in late March the
first of nearly one million ethnic
Albanian Kosovars fled to neighboring
countries. A family arrives in the
Albanian border town of Kukes.
Hundreds of thousands more civilians
were displaced within Kosovo itself.
Nearly onequarter of a
million people fled
to Macedonia. Many
were housed in
hastily constructed
camps such as the
one at Cegrane until
they returned home.
Nearly 92,000
refugees who
reached Macedonia
were then
evacuated to 29
countries outside the
region after the
Skopje government
made clear it could not absorb any more people. These
Kosovars were en route to the United Kingdom.
The majority of
refugees who reached
Albania found shelter with
host families. An elderly
couple and their grandchild
pose for a formal photograph
with their hosts in the
Albanian town of Bajram
Albanian refugee exodus
Refugee return
Serb exodus
An operation as difficult
and complex as any
UNHCR has faced
hen the Kosovo crisis began to
gain international attention two
years ago, it was presented primarily in terms of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction. But High Commissioner Sadako Ogata reported as early
as September, 1998, that “Kosovo is a political problem, with devastating humanitarian consequences, for which there is
only a political solution.” At the heart of
this problem were long-standing abuses of
human rights.
The long simmering crisis took
on a new dimension in February,
1998 with major
clashes between
Yugoslav and Serbian security forces
who indulged in
severe human
rights abuses and
the Kosovo Liberation Army which
gained increased
control of territory
and roads. There
was only limited need for relief assistance.
In a counter-offensive in July last year,
the security forces re-established control
over a number of key areas. They intensified a campaign of terror and forced displacement as a massive collective punishment against the civilian population for its
perceived support of the KLA which itself
was responsible for human rights abuses.
By late September 1998, more than
350,000 persons had been displaced inside
and outside the province and High Commissioner Ogata concluded that no just and
lasting solution would be possible without
a fundamental change in Belgrade’s attitude toward Kosovo’s Albanians.
The U.N. Security Council’s September
Resolution 1199 demanded the withdrawal
of security forces from Kosovo which began in late October. As the KLA reasserted
its presence, the first unarmed members
It was understood by all, however, that
this was not a long-term political solution:
that only a little time had been bought in
which to find one. By late December, the
cease-fire was breaking down and security
forces embarked on a series of ‘winter exercises’ clearly aimed at KLA strongholds
but which also caused new civilian displacements.
The Rambouillet negotiating process
began in February 1999, but the violence
and displacement continued and accelerated markedly after the talks faced. The practical problems of assistance
ended without agreement on 23 were huge, but there were also major proFebruary. When U.N. and NGO tection headaches in a highly charged pohumanitarian agencies had to litical environment where the stakes for
suspend operations in March, concerned governments were high.
an estimated 260,000 persons
The former Yugoslav Republic of
were displaced within Kosovo Macedonia was reluctant to grant asyitself, 100,000 elsewhere in the lum. There were security problems in
region and since early 1998 close Montenegro where the government was
to 100,000 had sought asylum ready to protect refugees if it could, but
further afield, chiefly in Ger- where the presence of federal security
many and Switzerland.
forces posed a threat to its very existence.
By early this year UNHCR’s The KLA was actively recruiting and
Kosovo operations were help- many families were split up during
ing an estimated 400,000 per- flight.
sons inside Kosovo in an operaThe most immediate problem was that
tion widely seen as effective. As UNHCR, like almost every western deciin the earlier Bosnia conflict, UNHCR or- sion maker and indeed many Kosovo Alganized international convoy teams and banians, did not predict the mass expulmade no distinctions among recipients ex- sions. Until days before the exodus, key
cept on the basis of need. Unlike Bosnia, western governments were banking on
access for the convoys and humanitarian peace and urging UNHCR to prepare for
staff was rarely denied and delivery was the early implementation of the Rammuch easier, including to Serb civilians.
bouillet accords.
But the limitations of
a humanitarian response
in the absence of successful political action had
again been made starkly
During the weeks of
NATO air action, around
850,000 refugees fled or
were expelled from
Kosovo. UNHCR became
engaged in an operation
NATO bombing began after the failure of the
as difficult and complex
Rambouillet peace talks in France.
as any the agency has
By Nicholas Morris
of the OSCE (Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe) Kosovo Verification Mission deployed and many displaced persons began returning home.
There were no
lack of claimants
for successes and
an obvious
candidate for
blame for
as to its ability to influence governments on
matters where their national interests were so
Wheatflour is unloaded at Urosevac
during aid operations in Kosovo in 1998.
It is unlikely these same governments,
some of whom have been sharply critical of
UNHCR’s lack of preparedness, would
have responded to a request for massive
preparations predicated on the failure of
their own peace efforts. To have been prepared for what actually happened, such a
request would have had to be already met
at a time when the success of peace efforts
still looked possible.
UNHCR’s key concern as the exodus began was less the absence of contingency
planning and stockpiles than lack of field
staff with a high level of experience and
keen political judgement.
A week after the exodus began and with
300,000 refugees already in Albania and
Macedonia, UNHCR asked for NATO’s assistance in an understanding which explicitly recognized the primacy of the humanitarian organizations. The potential
problems of humanitarian groups working
with a military are well documented. But
the reason for UNHCR’s April 3 request
was that there was no other way to unblock
a political impasse in which up to 65,000
people were left stranded on the KosovoMacedonia border. NATO’s readiness to
build camps and the start of the humanitarian evacuation program was the ‘package’ Macedonia required to allow asylum.
UNHCR considered that this military
support was better coordinated by the
agency than provided bilaterally, as it would
otherwise have been, but had no illusions
For years the case of
‘burden sharing’ has
been argued in humanitarian meetings
but countries of asylum wishing donors to
share the asylum, not
just the financial burdens, have had little
leverage in the past.
With NATO’s presence
on its territory, Macedonia had leverage and
the humanitarian
evacuation program
was the condition for
keeping the border
open. UNHCR launched the program
though it would have happened anyway.
Selecting refugees for evacuation was
fraught with potential protection problems.
The concept itself was new; it was not resettlement and not even temporary protection. Some participating governments
sought to limit their responsibilities by refusing to allow immediate
family reunion, even of
spouses, because this could
have given evacuees the
full rights of refugees.
One of the ironies was
that governments which
had respected UNHCR’s
requests with regard to the
protection and non-return
of Kosovo asylum seekers
before NATO’s action, became more restrictive after it. UNHCR even had to
refute arguments that because deportees had not
themselves fled persecution, they were not
entitled to protection as refugees.
Kosovo and Bosnia have often been
compared, but the fundamental differences
between these two operations have tended
to be overlooked. UNHCR’s Bosnia operation was, in a sense, a substitute for political action and ensuring its success was important to key governments.
The Kosovo exodus was the consequence
of, but certainly not caused by, political actions of key governments. There was sud-
denly a massive humanitarian crisis which
governments and NATO urgently needed
to contain and major and sometimes competing political considerations were at stake.
The humanitarian operation was both a vehicle for and subordinated to these concerns
with no lack of claimants for successes and
an obvious candidate for blame for perceived
Unlike in Bosnia, where UNHCR controlled the operation and coordination was
relatively easy, some governments became
directly involved in humanitarian initiatives,
sought their own visibility and the quick solutions which were simply not available.
Coordination in Kosovo, though a mandated UNHCR responsibility, was always
difficult and at times impossible in a ‘freefor-all’ atmosphere. UNHCR was urged
to coordinate more effectively by governments which then made bilateral arrangements for assistance and camp construction about which UNHCR often
learned post facto.
Some NGOs arrived without knowledge of the region or a clear understanding of the context or needs and sometimes
without the necessary experience.
Such early problems are characteristic
of high-profile emergencies,
but proved particularly difficult to handle in this one.
The experience reinforced
the importance of UNHCR
spelling out the challenges
and problems more clearly
from the start and the need
for a team/consortium approach with U.N. and other
UNHCR has commissioned an independent evaluation of the operation to
ensure that lessons are correctly analysed and learned.
It is to be hoped that lessons will also be
learned from the cumulative failures to
take resolute political action that contributed to making such a difficult operation necessary in the first place. B
in Kosovo was
difficult and
at times
impossible in a
Nicholas Morris , whose views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.N., was UNHCR Special Envoy in the Balkans in 199394 and again in 1998 until April 1999. This is
an abridged article which first appeared in
Forced Migration Review.
Ethnic Serbs flee Kosovo.
Serbia, already host to a half million refugees,
receives a new influx from Kosovo
his is a road to nowhere, except a big
black hole. But for us, there is no
choice. We must go,” said 45-year-old
Didac as he looked north from Kosovo toward the hinterland of Serbia recently, his
dark eyes blank and expressionless. His wife
and two children, all ethnic Serbs, along
with two other families huddled silently
on the back of a tractor-trailer. “We are
doomed to become
permanent wanderers, shunned by the world,” Didac said as
his small convoy of farm vehicles trundled
slowly forward.
Etched deeply into his weather-lined
face was not only personal tragedy, but the
dark history of the Balkans. Three times
in less than a decade Didac has become a
refugee as successive conflicts engulfed the
region during the 1990s.
Born in the Krajina area of Croatia, Didac’s family was among 170,000 ethnic
Serbs chased out of that region by the
Croatian army in
1995. When he
reached his ancestral homeland of
Serbia and apparent
safety, he was
moved by local authorities and became a
‘settler’ in Kosovo as part of the central
government’s efforts to maintain control of
a province dominated numerically by ethnic Albanians.
“For us life has become
a permanent hell.”
But when Albanian refugees began
streaming back into the province in early
June, he recognized ‘it was time to go again’
despite international pleas for the estimated 200,000 ethnic Serbs and tens of
thousands of Roma (gypsies) in the
province to remain. “For us life just turned
into a permanent hell,” Didac said as he
joined a growing exodus out of Kosovo.
Thousands of gypsies tried to escape to
Italy, but many were returned.
“We are a people without a country,” said
one Roma. “We go where the wind blows.”
Around 200,000 displaced from Kosovo
headed north to Serbia or west to Montenegro trying to escape an increasing number of atrocities. They became an economic
burden in a country reeling from war, a crippled infrastructure, rampant unemployment and which was already host to the
largest single concentration of refugees in Europe, more than 500,000
people who had fled earlier regional conflicts.
The government in
Belgrade initially used a
series of bureaucratic obstacles to try to force people to return to Kosovo.
Displaced Serbs were forbidden to register with
local police until they
had ‘deregistered’ in
Kosovo. But in a classic
Catch 22 situation, there
were no civil servants left
in Kosovo to deregister
them. Without Serbian
registration the new arrivals could not obtain
pensions, fuel coupons or
schooling for their children. “They are trying to
force them back with red
tape,” said UNHCR
Janowski at the time.
When some Serbs did return to Kosovo they
found their situation as
precarious as when they
had left. The government later said it was working urgently to
eliminate the bureaucratic bottlenecks and
make the displaced more welcome.
Even when refugees found accommodation, the conditions were often inadequate.
A UNHCR team visited the region and in
one old school building in Sirco found around
120 refugees. In one room seven adult Kosovars and 12 children shared four beds. In another a woman still recovering from an operation, her nine-year-old daughter and husband and grandfather shared two bare steel
beds and used toilet paper as pillows.
At another location, scores of refugees received only a quarter loaf of bread and a small
sliver of pate per day as a food ration. In the
town of Leskovac, an estimated 200 people
who fled the Krajina region seven years ago,
continue to live in a school with no hot water, no electric boilers, little electric light,
leaking pipes and ‘an overpowering smell
coming out of the building’ .
Since 1991 UNHCR provided an estimated $250 million in assistance to the early
refugee arrivals in Serbia. But as one aid of-
ficial admitted: “Let’s face it.
The Serbs aren’t popular
refugees with international
donors. The bulk of any available funds will go toward rebuilding Kosovo. The Serbs
will get the leftovers.”
Some ethnic Serb refugees
have managed to start a new
life. Serbia introduced a new
Citizenship Law in 1997 and
around 42,000 people were approved for citizenship and permanent residence. Since 1992
nearly 13,500 refugees from
Croatia and Bosnia were resettled by UNHCR in other regions, primarily the United
States, Canada, Australia, Chile and various European countries.
Disappointingly only around 5,000 people had gone back on UNHCR-organized
repatriation programs to their original
homes in Croatia and Bosnia by the end of
1998. Some of these returns continued
through the NATO bombing earlier this year, with
815 civilians returning to
Croatia and 35 to Bosnia.
More than a half million long-time Serb
refugees —joined this year
by an additional 200,000
people from Kosovo— are
living their lives in bureaucratic limbo, unsure
they will be able to return
to homes some families
have occupied for centuries, or whether they
will be able to start afresh somewhere else.
For its part the new U.N. administration
in Kosovo is convinced the key to long-term
stability in the province must be the successful reintegration of the region’s Serbs
and Roma. Given the discouraging example
from other areas of the former Yugoslavia
that may well remain an elusive goal and a
future potential flashpoint. B
“Let’s face it.
The Serbs
aren’t popular
refugees with
donors. They
will get the
Tolerance in a sea of hatred
One tiny republic keeps its doors open to everyone
Ethnic hatred and cleansing became
a virulent disease in many parts of the
former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. An honorable exception to this behavior has
been the conduct of the tiny republic of
As early as 1991, Montenegrins
vividly demonstrated their opposition to
a conflict which eventually engulfed the
entire region, when army reservists resisted attempts to mobilize them to fight
in the Yugoslav army against Croatia,
which had declared its independence
from the old Yugoslav Federation.
As war spread, the tiny republic —
population only 616,000— sheltered as
many as 45,000 refugees from Croatia
and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Remarkably,
they included both Serbs and Muslims
at a time when other countries in the region were slamming their doors shut to
anyone other than their own ethnic kin.
Aid officials particularly remember
the government’s kindness in 1992 toward
Muslim and Serb men who had been held
in wretched conditions in various detention centers in Bosnia, by housing them
in coastal hotels which normally catered
to the lucrative tourist trade.
That tradition of tolerance continued
through the recent troubles in Kosovo,
despite the fact that Montenegro remains officially allied with Serbia in the
rump Yugoslav Federation, the Yugoslav
army has troops stationed in the republic and Yugoslav police control the common frontier.
The government in the republic capital of Podgorica, which means Under
the Mountain, openly opposed Serbia’s
actions in Kosovo, despite the obvious
political threats to its own survival, and
again welcomed floods of uprooted Kosovars of all ethnicities.
Initially, an estimated 70,000 mostly
ethnic Albanians sought shelter in Montenegro, a region of splendid beaches,
mountains and marshland. The bulk of
those people returned home in early
summer when the fortunes of war
changed dramatically in their favor, but
when Serbs and Roma fled the province
in turn, Montenegro sheltered some
22,000 of them.
The government’s openness toward all
victims of war showed a welcome touch of
humanity in an area where ethnic intolerance has become the norm. B
Dennis McNamara became UNHCR Special Envoy in the
Balkans as the Kosovo crisis exploded into full-scale conflict. He
was subsequently also named as a Deputy Special Representative
of Secretary-General Kofi Annan in charge of humanitarian
affairs for the province and in the following interview examines
some of the early problems and the future.
q. Can the humanitarian community win
this latest race?
a. We’ve managed more people in more
difficult circumstances than Kosovo over
the last few decades so the humanitarian
task is eminently doable. That’s not the major hurdle. The real challenge is the overall political, security and military environment and the plethora of major actors
including NATO, the European Union and
the UN. How are they going to fit together?
q. UNHCR was heavily criticized for its
performance at the start of the Kosovo exodus.
a. Part of the criticism was valid, some
of it invalid and some of it in-between.
Parts of the system should have moved effectively and quickly, but there were no
predictions of the magnitude of the exodus by any government. We had appealed
early for donor support for contingency
planning. The support was not forthcoming. Those factors must be balanced against
the slowness of the response.
q. Why was UNHCR constantly underfunded by donor governments who also undertook far more government-to-government
programs, so-called bilateralism, than seen
a. It was a Catch-22 situation to some extent. Initial criticism led to withholding of
funds and an amazing situation where we
had to keep appealing for humanitarian
funds during a conflict when governments
had spent billions on military hardware. Increased government-to-government programs are a reflection of a global phenomenon. Governments see bilateral programs serving national interests more
effectively. Hence there is support for
NATO’s post-conflict role, for European
Union and OSCE bodies and at the same
time there has been very inadequate funding for an organization like UNHCR which
is charged by these same players with coordinating the humanitarian response.
q. Given that many of these governments
are also major donors of UNHCR, isn’t this
a worrying development for the future?
a. Donors have many voices. There is
rhetoric supporting UNHCR’s coordinating role but those same institutions fund
agencies bilaterally and issue precise instructions not to be coordinated by the U.N.
Those are inherent dilemmas which have
to come out in the open. The current situation cannot continue.
q. Did UNHCR underestimate the sheer
political and military complexity and magnitude of Kosovo?
a. On the humanitarian level we have
handled more difficult situations. But once
NATO launched its first military action
ever, the stakes were fantastically high politically and it was no longer business as
usual. Humanitarian agencies are likely to
get crushed when elephants of that size
are unleashed and we are convenient
scapegoats when things go wrong. It was
also a media war, a media circus, a fourmonth crisis 24-hours a day and the only
Refugees: The Kosovo crisis seemed to
be a race against time with the international
community always playing catch-up...the race
to help hundreds of thousands of fleeing
refugees...the race to assist the flood of returnees and now another race against the approach of winter.
a. A half a million people fled in 10 days
contrary to all predictions. Then a half a
million people went back in two weeks,
again contrary to all predictions. Playing
catch-up was inevitable.
A 13-year-old girl who lost both legs
to a booby trapped mine when she
returned home, at Pristina hospital.
news seemed to be bad news. Today, information and perception are as important as
actual performance and that’s a lesson we
have had to learn. If you don’t you will be
q. Humanitarian military cooperation has
always been a delicate subject. Will Kosovo
strengthen or sour future coordination?
a. That’s a key question. During the war
this massive interface meant constantly
redrawing the lines of responsibility.
NATO was one hundred times superior in
manpower and resources and when not engaged militarily they began setting schedules for repatriation and doing other things
that were our mandate. They didn’t appreciate us saying ‘hold it, don’t do that.’
And we didn’t appreciate them overstepping the line. The powers that be, however, recognized they couldn’t solve the crisis purely militarily so they returned to the
U.N. to manage the consequences. It’s been
difficult for both groups. I’m sure it will affect future cooperation.
q . The threat of mines is going to be with
us in Kosovo for a very long time?
a. They recently found a World War
Two unexploded bomb at London airport.
Kosovo will be no different. But unexploded
military ordnance may be a bigger problem than mines themselves. We don’t know
how much is out there and where it is. We
are talking years here.
q. In humanitarian crises there always
seems to be a dangerous gap between emergency assistance and longer term reconstruction which seems to be happening in
Kosovo too.
a. The rebuilding of civil society must
be in the frontline with humanitarian relief. Funding states must be committed and
alert enough to send in the people who are
going to rebuild the roads and electrical
plants, the judiciary and the police along
with the aid workers. They should be on
the ground with us so that this dangerous,
lawless environment is not allowed to
flourish in a vacuum.
q. Isn’t it just naive and wishful thinking
to believe Kosovo can be multi-ethnic again
after such violence and atrocities? After all,
hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting to go home in Bosnia.
a. To be sure, revenge is in the air and
whether this hatred is stemmable or not,
I’m not sure. What’s for certain is that proREFUGEES
tection means both physical and comprehensive legal protection and this tragic gap
in protection in Kosovo could be fatal to
the ideals of multi-ethnicity.
q. One refugee exodus seems to beget
another. Is there any way to break this cycle?
a. Hundreds of thousands of people
have returned to Kosovo but the conflict
produced another 200,000 refugees. The
cycle continues. It’s hard to be optimistic
but population stability is the bedrock of
human rights and democracy.
q. Donors increasingly earmark funds for
specific crises and the hundreds of thousands
of refugees already in Serbia have sometimes
been forgotten by the international community. Isn’t this another dangerous trend?
a. Earmarking funds is clearly politically driven but UNHCR has channeled
$250 million to Serb refugees since 1992. It
will be far more difficult to get new funds
for the latest Serb displaced and for the
longtime displaced in Serbia who are living
in pitiful conditions.
q. What is UNHCR’s medium and longterm role in Kosovo following the return of
the majority of refugees?
a. We will continue to address the humanitarian hazards of winter. We must
continue to care for refugees in Albania
and Macedonia who have not returned
home and address the problems of Kosovars who went further afield to Europe,
Oceania and North America. We will be
engaged for a very long time.
q. What about the surrounding states who
housed so many Kosovars?
a. A fundamental message must be ‘You
are not forgotten because you’ve served your
purpose.’ Our message is ‘We will remain
committed to you.’ These countries are angry about the lack of economic assistance
they believe they were promised and European nations must invest in these countries.
q. But we’ve seen this all before. The cameras go away and the world forgets.
a. Kosovo is too important politically to
be simply brushed aside when the television screens are empty. When politicians
are embarrassed by television images they
respond. But, slogans and images are not
the way to run international affairs. We had
a war in Kosovo based on principle. Now
let’s invest in the future by continuing to
support these same principles. B
Cooperation among humanitarian bodies, and among the sprawling family of U.N.
organizations, should further improve with
the strengthening of the Office for the Cotary
ordination of Humanitarian Affairs
By Cedric Thornberry
humanitarians’ logistical capacity.
(OCHA), but renewed attention needs to
be given to civilian-military relations
urely it is not an ineluctable natural
which could become a major issue in the
law that peacekeeping’s soldiers and DIFFICULT
new century.
humanity’s warriors must always TO SEPARATE
Above all, the need of both military and
snarl when the cause of peace and huThus civilian and military tasks may
manity brings them together in some sav- encroach upon one another and cannot— civilians is for education for mixed peaceage new scenario?
other than on paper— be fully separated. keeping operations, and for informed leadThey have complementary roles in as- How, for instance, is the military’s nega- ership, especially in the field. Much prejsuaging the outcome of disaster. Each tive evaluation of the security of a proposed udice and misunderstanding comes from
knows its specialist segment of responsi- relief convoy’s route to be weighed against ignorance of each other’s professional tasks
bility. But each pursues a common goal.
an imperative to reach a specific village and values.
NATO has been trying to incorporate
The era of U.N. Cold War peacekeep- whose inhabitants are starving?
ing, mostly after cease-fires between feudFour years ago, UNHCR produced two humanitarian concerns and civilian roles
ing countries, led, a decade ago, to more booklets: A UNHCR Handbook for the into its main peacekeeping exercises in recent years without always
complex operations that began
having full support from the
in Namibia and Central Amermajor agencies. Many defence
ica. For the first time, multiple
forces now teach peacekeeptasks —political, military, police,
ing, including civilian tasks,
humanitarian, legal, developas part of their staff courses.
mental— arose.
Bridging the chasm will
Since then, the international
not be easy. Two major struccommunity has been increastural problems create unnecingly drawn into calamitous inessary tension.
ternal conflicts ranging from the
It is hard enough to mainformer Yugoslavia to Rwanda,
tain good coordination beand UNHCR has become an hatween soldiers and humanibitual participant together with
tarian workers when both ancountless, but often divergent,
swer within a unified chain of
U.N., intergovernmental and
command emanating from a
non-governmental organizations.
British soldiers distribute bread to refugees at Stenkovic
single head of mission in an
Each body has a different
2 camp, Macedonia.
integrated peacekeeping opmandate and focus. This at once
eration. Deliberately to split
affords potential for friction in
even the most harmonious operations. In Military on Humanitarian Operations and military and civilian operations into two
Namibia, for instance, UNHCR’s mandated a training module for its own staff on separate entities, as has happened in the
emphasis on returnee welfare was not en- Working with the Military. Still relevant, Balkans, looks like reckless endangerment.
Moreover, the wasteful organizational
tirely consistent with the United Nations they deal gently with a basic truth of milgyrations imposed in Europe to placate a
Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) itary-humanitarian relations.
mission’s overall duty of impartiality toThis is, that many humanitarian work- certain anti-U.N. attitude must inevitably
wards all Namibians.
ers seem young and inexperienced to their diminish the coherence and strength of
How does military-civilian friction military counterparts. Soldiers, in turn, are mixed-task peacekeeping.
No. It is not an immutable law of nature
arise? In theory it should not. It is the mil- often seen as favoring simplistic, shortitary’s business to support UNHCR and term and aggressive solutions to complex that soldiers and civilians should disagree.
other humanitarian bodies’ relief activi- issues. There are, often, different mind- But they do need every opportunity and
ties. UNHCR does not challenge the mili- sets, and it would be wrong to disregard encouragement to talk to one another, and
tary’s security role. But humanitarian ac- the reality that training, experience and to learn to understand and respect one antivities may be intimately linked to the mil- divergent approaches to decision making, other’s mandate and professionalism. B
itary in that peacekeepers may, in use of resources, command and control,
Cedric Thornberry was Head of Civil Afdangerous environments, be mandated to may increase difficulties of mutual un- fairs and Assistant Secretary-General in the
work with UNHCR to deliver protection derstanding and enhance any tendency to former Yugoslavia, 1992-94 and a U.N. peaceand assistance to those in need. The mili- think in stereotypes.
keeper in Cyprus, the Middle East and Namibia.
Soldiers and humanitarian workers often make
uneasy partners, but they need each other
The massacre at Racak village in January in which 45 persons were executed.
A returning visitor finds a continuing degree
of resilience and optimism in Kosovo.
By Fernando del Mundo
n the devastated ruins of Lodja there
was a determined sense of renewal in
the air. A dozen residents busily repaired a school for use as temporary quarters while they rebuilt their homes in an
area which was considered the heart and
soul of Kosovo’s second largest town, Pec.
UNHCR provided the civilians —artists,
professionals and entrepreneurs— with re-
pair kits and other aid agencies fixed the
electricity and water facilities. One 70-yearold woman stared at the unblemished
facade of her home, which hid the ruin
behind, and sighed: “This is my life...
everything I had I spent to build this place.”
But when her daughter began to cry, the
old woman almost angrily hushed her.
Reconstruction must continue despite the
personal despair.
That was last year, before the NATO
air campaign and the worldwide headlines
and I visited Lodja several times as a UNHCR field officer. An air and ground assault by Serbian paramilitary units had reduced virtually all of the 100 houses and a
mosque in Lodja to rubble. It reminded me
a little of my home in Manila, one of the
most heavily devastated cities in World
War II. Troops had scrawled graffitti on one
wall declaring ‘Café Lodja does not exist
anymore’, similar to signs other victorious
Serbian forces had plastered across the
Balkans in the 1990s.
I revisited Lodja recently, after most
Albanian refugees had again returned.
There was an immediate sense of déjà vu.
To be sure, there was even more destruction than I remember. Downtown Pec,
with its cobbled streets of gold shops and
boutiques, had also been levelled. But there
was that same sense of resilience of a year
earlier. A 44-year-old Albanian surveyed
the wreckage of his home with his wife and
four young sons, still brimming with hope.
“We have to start organizing ourselves first,
and then things will get better,” he said, explaining he planned to reopen his carpentry shop as soon as possible.
Anyone who knows Kosovo well was
not surprised that hundreds of thousands
of refugees, even those as far away as the
United States and Germany, would ignore
the pleas of the international community
to be patient before returning home. In
1998, civilians had moved like a whirlwind
from one village to another, always within
the vicinity of their own homes, as the
Serbs and Kosovo Liberation Army played
deadly games of hide-and-seek and catch.
Whenever there was a lull in the conflict,
they returned home as quickly as possible.
Kosovo is a small place. The Albanian I
met in the ruins of Lodja knew me. He had
seen me in September, 1998 in the village
of Krusevac. More than 25,000 ethnic Albanians were fleeing from a Serbian military sweep and as the sound of artillery
blasts followed them, they pleaded with
me to somehow stop the bombardment. I
called UNHCR’s Belgrade office. The matter was raised at the highest levels, but I
will never know if the phone call made any
The Albanian, who admitted that he was
a KLA soldier, said he saw me again the
following day in Istinic, just south of
Krusevac, where the civilians were cornered
because the Serbs had blocked the road.
At the time UNHCR was helping around 400,000 people and
staff members, including local
personnel who had everything to
lose in such a dangerous environment, roamed the province in
vulnerable ‘soft-skin’ vehicles, often visiting areas where international observers
would not go, on assessment missions to
gauge the needs of the population.
We had run convoys virtually every single day since the spring of 1998. A colleague, Francis Teoh, led the last fleet of
trucks before we were ordered out of
Kosovo in advance of the NATO attacks.
The trip between the town of Mitrovica
and a village called Ade normally takes 30
minutes. That day, as he negotiated 11 checkpoints, it took him several hours. At one roadblock special forces troops beat up a driver
and shoved a Kalachnikov rifle in Francis’
stomach as he tried to intervene. ‘Nema
problema’ (no problem), he assured the soldiers as his infectious smile and sense of humor rescued him yet again from a tight spot.
is war. The pain is the same.”
On one of my last working field
trips in Kosovo I encountered a
group of 100 terrified villagers
huddled into two houses as special
forces troops conducted an offensive against their village near Pristina.
Masked soldiers angrily took away video
films I had shot of the operation, but an officer apologetically handed them back to
me. “There is enough space for everyone
in Kosovo,” he said. “But this dirt is consuming us all,” he added as he twisted his
boot into the mud patch on which he was
As I left Kosovo this time, 14 Serbian
farmers had recently been massacred by unknown gunmen. In one of the defining moments in the Kosovo conflict, 45 ethnic Albanians were slaughtered in Racak village in
January. That incident drew worldwide condemnation. Now it was the turn of an Albanian acquaintance to show remorse. “Oh
my God,” he said on hearing the news. “We
have become just like the Serbs.” B
“War is war. The pain is the same”
all over the world.
We were ordered to leave for Macedonia that same night. Most of us thought we
would be back within a few days. The
shooting lasted for 2 1/2 months.
When I did go back, the pattern of our
aid effort had changed. We continued to
help the uprooted Kosovars, of course, but
a major protection concern now was the
enclaves —particularly the pockets of Serbs
and Roma who found themselves surrounded by ethnic Albanian majorities
across Kosovo.
This reversal in fortunes reminded me
of a remark made earlier this year by Jo
Hegenauer, who headed UNHCR operations in Kosovo. Asked if there was any difference in the suffering of people in the
midst of conflict in Europe compared with
other parts of the world, he replied, “War
Saving lives...
but losing their own
A local charity helped many old and infirm Kosovars, but
volunteers paid a heavy price
As hundreds of thousands of people
fled their homes during the Kosovo war,
in each village and town pockets of people remained behind. They were the old
and infirm, men and women who either
couldn’t physically
leave or had simply
given up the will to
live. Unable to fend for
themselves “as the
days went on, it became apparent they
were facing starvation,” says Fatima
Boshanjaku from the
Mother Teresa Society.
The Albanian charity had been helping
500,000 people earlier
this year, but as the NATO air campaign
began and Serbian troops intensified
their campaign of ethnic cleansing, this
aid effort collapsed.
Still, some volunteers remained be-
hind and as food levels dwindled they
began scouring ruined houses for wheat
flour to feed the old people.
The charity workers saved many
lives, but at a high cost to themselves. In
the town of Djakovica,
six society workers
were killed, two were
wounded, six captured
and tortured and nine
simply disappeared.
Throughout the
province 100 society
personnel were killed
or went missing.
The society was
named after the late
Albanian nun who
won the Nobel Peace
Prize for her work among the poor of
Calcutta. In its first year in 1990 society
volunteers helped an estimated 15,000
people, mostly families of the unemployed.
By 1998 the society
was helping a half
million people and
became UNHCR’s
main distribution
By 1998 its network had expanded so
rapidly, it was able to help as many as a
half million people and became UNHCR’s main distribution partner for relief supplies.
For months leading up to the NATO
bombing campaign, multi-agency convoys hauled food, blankets, mattresses
and other supplies to society warehouses
from where volunteers distributed the
aid by tractor-trailer to remote areas,
many of which had been cut off by Serbian military activity.
It was dangerous work. In a foretaste
of things to come, Serbian tanks targetted one tractor-trailer convoy in August
last year, despite aid agency logos being
clearly visible on relief boxes, and killed
three volunteers.
As the chaos increased, virtually all
the Mother Teresa warehouses were
looted and torched. Of 92 clinics, 78 were
destroyed. Most of the society’s 22 officials and 8,000 volunteers fled to neighboring countries where they helped organize relief operations.
Today, the society is back in business.
The majority of volunteers have returned,
38 of 44 branches and as many as 500 of
the 636 sub-branches operating before the
war have reopened. “Conditions are better now,” says Jak Mita, the society’s vicepresident. “We can work freely.” B
more likely that people like Justine Kokolo
and her family will remain destitute and
homeless for all of their lives.
A crisis largely ignored by the outside world
They fled south to the Pool region, a
swampy and inhospitable area virtually cut
s world attention focused on events off from the rest of the devastated, oil-rich
in Kosovo, Justine Kokolo and her country. The displaced—the government esseven children were surviving, timates there are as many as 200,000 in Pool
barely, on a diet of manioc leaves and roots alone though aid agencies say the
deep in the heart of Africa. The family true figure is probably half that —surhad fled Brazzaville, the capital of the Re- vive by foraging in the forest and
public of Congo, late last year when fight- picking clean abandoned farms. Maling flared anew between government nutrition has begun to skyrocket and
forces and guerrillas. But they only ex- children have begun to die, even after escaping the region and reaching
changed one hell for another.
the apparent safety
of U.N. centers.
But food is only
one of the problems
facing these displaced Congolese.
Civilians claim that
Ninja rebels operating in Pool, who
back the country’s
former Foreign
Minister, Bernard
Kolelas in his struggle
against the current government, use them as human shields against attacks by government helicopters. The guerrillas are
often drugged, the civilians say, rampaging
through the area, issuing
bizarre decrees and orders
that often result in the
murder of innocents for no
apparent reason.
The situation in the
Congo is one of the most
dangerous and difficult in
Africa. But it never makes
world headlines and is, in
fact, rarely reported at all.
Humanitarian officials
working in Africa worry
that ‘glamour’ crises such
as the Kosovo problem
siphon off not only media
A child in the destroyed center of Brazzaville,
attention but precious aid
capital of the Congo.
dollars, making it ever
By Peter Kessler
Conditions were so bad in Pool that
mother and family decided to make the
dangerous trek back to the capital recently.
But Brazzaville itself is a shell of a city.
Gunfire echoes through the empty boulevards 24 hours a day. Food is constantly in
short supply. Many buildings are gutted.
The transit center where Justine stays is a
half-built sports complex which, like most
other centers, has been looted many times
over. It can accommodate 2,000 people sleeping on the
bare floor of a basketball court. The
nearby once-elegant race track is
Justine is having second or even
third thoughts
about which is the
safest—or less dangerous place—in
Congo, if one exists at all. There
are no blankets for
Justine and her
family and she
now complains, “Life in Brazzaville is terrible. I’d like to go back to Lomou (in the
Pool region) but there is no way to get there.”
Since early 1999 an estimated 35,000
malnourished Congo refugees sought asylum in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, itself in a state of turmoil.
A further 25,000 traumatized civilians escaped to Gabon in the first weeks of July.
Since April, despite warnings by UNHCR about the perilous nature of things
at home, at least 30,000 people have returned from Democratic Congo to Brazzaville to a very uncertain future.
Salaried employment in the once-thriving capital is virtually non-existant. Onetime civil servants squat in the shadow of
a downtown office tower, trading what
they have for what they need.
Most of these people depend on the limited supplies distributed by a few relief
agencies. But the latest U.N. appeals for additional funds have thus far not been answered, making it unlikely that the lot of
Congo’s victims will improve any time
soon. B
One of the
dangerous and
situations in
Africa, but it
never makes
B Hong Kong reopened a second
camp for boat people after
rioting between ethnic Chinese
and Vietnamese groups.
B More than 100,000 Afghans
fled the latest fighting between
Taliban and Northern Alliance
asylum Good news and bad
Restarting operations in
the Horn
The repatriation of Somali
refugees from Ethiopia
restarted in June after being
suspended in late 1998 because of the continuing hardships faced by the returnees in
northern Somalia. UNHCR
scheduled three convoys a
week until December and
hopes to move up to 60,000
people before the end of the
year. Ethiopia still hosts
around 200,000 Somalis of
the hundreds of thousands of
people who had originally
fled their country, first during
the Ogaden war in the late
1970s and then during Somalia’s own civil war earlier this
hen African leaders gathered recently
in Algiers for their last summit meeting this century, there was some good
news and some bad news for the continent’s
refugees. Efforts to end three of Africa’s most intractable conflicts—in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the war between
Ethiopia and Eritrea—were inching slowly to© KEYSTONE/AP/C. NTAYE
The Presidents of Sierra Leone, Nigeria and
Liberia witness the symbolic destruction of
ward resolution. If stability could be reimposed,
it would bring relief to millions of people. There
are currently 450,000 refugees from the Sierra
Leone civil war and hundreds of thousands have
been displaced within the country. At least
600,000 civilians fled the latest fighting on the
Horn of Africa. In Central Africa at least 100,000
have left the Congo in recent months, another
700,000 are internally displaced and there are an
additional 300,000 refugees from surrounding
countries in the Congo itself. The bad news in
Algiers was it remained very uncertain any of
the agreements would stick. Even after a peace
accord was signed in Central Africa, thousands
of refugees continued to flee the Congo. High
Commissioner Sadako Ogata attended the summit and said there was an “encouraging new resolve in African leaders to stop feeling sorry for
themselves and to tackle the immense political
and economic problems” which plague the continent. “That new attitude is Africa’s hope for the
future,” she said. B
Every little bit helps
With a population of around
60,000 Andorra is one of the
smallest countries in the
world. However, early in the
Kosovo crisis, Andorra’s U.N.
ambassador donated
$100,000 towards UNHCR’s
efforts in the conflict and said
his country would be willing
to accept up to 10 Kosovar
refugees in need of medical
assistance. Officials believe
this is the first time Andorra
has involved itself in refugee
Ending a conflict
The U.N. Security Council has
called for increased efforts to
reinforce peace agreements
signed by warring factions. In a
formal statement, the Council
proposed a series of ‘practical
measures’ ensuring more effective disarmament of excombatants and their reintegration into civilian society.
The Council noted that despite peace agreements and
the presence of U.N. peacekeeping missions on the
grounds, combatants in many
recent conflicts simply kept
on fighting.
Refugee numbers
he number of refugees and other people
of concern to UNHCR dropped by
around four percent in 1998 compared
with the previous year to a total of 21.5 million.
Figures recently released show the number of
refugees in that overall figure also fell by a similar four percent to a total of 11,491,710. Other categories of people UNHCR helps include asylum seekers, returned refugees, internally disG U AT E M A L A
A last
journey home
s many as 45,000
Guatemalans fled to
Mexico starting in the
early 1980s as civil unrest
gripped their own country.
Some started to trickle back
almost immediately and in
the intervening years the
great majority have returned
placed persons and certain war-affected people.
The largest declines among refugees were in
Latin America and the Caribbean which recorded 11 percent declines, Europe which showed a
nine percent fall and Africa with a six percent
drop. The estimated asylum seeker population,
however, showed an overall increase of 38 percent to 1.3 million people worldwide. B
home, either individually or
with governmental and UNHCR assistance. On 24 June,
167 refugees went home in
the last voluntary repatriation, effectively bringing the
Guatemalan operation to a
successful conclusion. “I have
a dream and that is to establish my own organization to
work with the disabled, those
who were injured during the
war,” said one male refugee
who had spent 16 years in ex-
ile. “We are still nervous. We
waited for several years in
Mexico (following the signing of peace in Guatemala),
but now we feel we can rebuild our lives in Guatemala.”
Some 22,000 Guatemalans
elected not to go home, and
the Mexican government offered the chance of full Mexican nationality to members of
this group, more than 1,200 of
whom have already received
citizenship. B
B Holland said it will send
rejected asylum seekers back to
their countries within four weeks.
B The European Union approved
$4.7 million in aid for Myanmar
refugees living in Thai border
B Ireland is considering allowing
some asylum seekers work permits to help meet the country’s
labor shortage.
U.S. bars spousal abuse victims
so badly she haemorrhaged. It
was argued the Guatemalan
government had failed to protect her. The Immigration and
Naturalization Service in 1995
had issued guidelines intended
to recognize gender-based
persecution under asylum
laws, but it remained unclear
whether women fleeing
spousal abuse —as opposed to
governmental persecution —
could seek refuge. The Natu-
The end of a revolt
hen nomadic Tuareg
tribesmen rose in revolt against the central government in the west
African state of Mali in 1990, the
entire country was thrown into
turmoil. More than 300,000 people were forced from their homes,
more than one-third of them becoming refugees in Mauritania,
Burkina Faso, Algeria and Niger.
In the late 1990s, UNHCR undertook an ambitious program to
help the refugees return and resettle the entire northern part of
Board of Immigration
Appeals has ruled that a
woman fleeing violent
abuse by her husband is not eligible for asylum in the United
States. An immigration judge
had granted asylum in 1996 to a
Guatemalan woman, Rodi Alvarado Peña, who had left her
home after her husband had
pistol whipped her, broke windows and mirrors with her
head, raped her and kicked her
ralization Service appealed the
first decision and in a 10-5 decision, the Board of Immigration
Appeals ruled Mrs. Alvarado
had not proved she suffered under any of the five categories
outlined in international and
U.S. law: race, religion,nationality, political opinion or membership in a targetted social
group. The dissenting Board
members insisted the U.S. had
an obligation to protect anyone
who feared harm because of
“some fundamental aspect of
their identity.” B
the country. The
agency spent nearly
$240 million on 638
returnee sites in the
regions of Gao, Kidal,
Mopti, Segou and
Timbuktu. In late
Returnees in the Gao region of Mali
June, the agency officially ended its northprojects to stimulate economic
ern Mali operation when Africa growth and improve security in
director Albert-Alain Peters the region. A smaller UNHCR
handed over to President Alpha Mali office will continue to care
Oumar Konare a 700-page report for around 2,000 urban refugees
which summarized its four-year from Liberia, Sierra Leone and
program but also called for future the Great Lakes region. B
Another war in the islands Gypsies on the run
hey gained infamy as the scene of
some of the worst fighting in World
War II and the battle between U.S.
Marines and Japanese defenders on
Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands has
been immortalized in dozens of films and
books. Since the end of the war the Islands,
deep in the Pacific Ocean, slipped back into
obscurity. Recently, however, they became
the scene of another conflict, this time of
their own making. The U.N. helped mediate an ethnic dispute in June between the
majority Gwale population and the minority Malaitan country people. Several persons were killed in the clashes and as many
as 20,000 forced to flee their homes. B
osovo is not the only place in Europe where
the continent’s gypsies (Roma) are on the run.
Finland recently suspended visa-free entry
for Slovak citizens after more than 1,000 Slovak
gypsies sought political asylum in the country since
the beginning of the year. The Roma said they were
fleeing persecution in the central European state.
However, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has
pledged a ‘new deal’ for the gypsy community as the
country sought to improve its human rights record
and its chance of eventual entry into the European
Union. Finland is the latest destination in a string of
countries targetted in the last few years by gypsy
immigration including Canada, Britain, Belgium
and Germany. B
B Hundreds of Sudanese fleeing
conscription into the rebel Sudan
People’s Liberation Army fled
into neighboring Uganda in July.
Tougher rules
for asylum seekers
Swiss voters, increasingly concerned at the growing number
of people seeking asylum in
their country, in June approved
new rules for asylum seekers.
The new measures allow collective temporary admission
for certain groups such as ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, but
at the same time limits
refugees’ rights to make their
case for individual persecution, a necessity for permanent asylum. People arriving
without proper identification
must justify its absence to gain
access to regular asylum procedures. Switzerland anticipates as many as 60,000 people will seek asylum this year,
the highest number per capita
in Europe.
Refugees online
The American Red Cross said
it will launch a new online system for tracking refugees and
displaced persons worldwide.
During the Kosovo crisis, the
Red Cross developed an online database for Kosovar
refugees arriving in the United
States. Together with Oracle,
the software company, it
plans to expand this “Displaced Persons Linking System” as a worldwide general
reference point which
refugees and other displaced
persons can access.
Another famine
Southern Somalia is facing another massive famine because
of limited rains and continued
fighting between rival warlords
in the perennially troubled region on the Horn of Africa. International aid workers say as
many as one million people are
at risk and appealed for $17.5
million in aid to help them.
Around 300,000 people died in
an earlier famine in 1992 in the
same area.
A sporting
orld sports bodies and humanitarian agencies
joined forces to bring a little
light relief and relaxation to at
least some of the hundreds of
thousands of Kosovar refugees
during the recent crisis. The International Volleyball Federation, which has worked with
UNHCR on other projects in
Africa, distributed balls and
nets in several camps in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and also
provided funds for local instructors. The International Olympic Committee, the International Football Federation
(FIFA), the Union of European
Football Associations (UEFA)
together with UNHCR and
UNICEF also provided thousands of soccer balls and other
equipment to refugee camp and
community schools reaching
tens of thousands of kids. “Playing a sport allowed refugees to
discover that one can still live,
without forgetting,” says 21year-old Leonora Luttori, herself a refugee who was wounded
in the head and arm and saw her
best friend die in her arms before escaping to Albania and becoming a local UNHCR field
worker. The programs were
launched in anticipation that
the refugees could spend many
months in exile, but the groups
involved said they will pursue
these activities inside Kosovo itself as an ongoing contribution
in helping to restore the
province to a semblance of normality. B
Free at last
Volleyball game in Albania
or 11 years he slept
on a red plastic
bench at Paris’
Charles de Gaulle
airport and ate at a
nearby pizza parlour
and fast food restaurant. Barmen and
helped the Iranian
who spent his days
listening to the radio
and writing a diary.
But in early July the ‘Mr. Alfred’ writes a letter from his ‘bed’ at Roissy airport.
ordeal of 54-year-old
Karim Nasser Miran, known to local air- and entered a bureaucratic never-never
port officials and immigration officials as land. Because he had no official docuMr. Alfred, ended when Belgium granted ments he could not be deported and was
him refugee credentials. He was expelled dumped into limbo in the so-called ‘infrom Iran, without papers, in the 1970s ternational’ no-go zone of the Paris airafter protesting against the Shah’s port. The stolen document recently surregime, but was eventually given refugee faced and the Belgian government
papers in the 1980s. His legal nightmare offered him sanctuary. Miran said he had
began when his briefcase containing the been taking a correspondence course
refugee document was stolen. He was during his incarceration and hoped to resubsequently arrested by French police turn to Brussels to complete it. B
Good samaritans
he Organization of
African Unity (OAU) announced the creation of an
award for Outstanding Service to Refugees and Displaced Persons in Africa and
said the first recipients were
Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire.
The award is based on a country’s long history of hosting
large numbers of refugees, a
country not being a refugee
producing country itself, and
its involvement at the highest
level of government in
refugee issues. The launch of
the award this year was timed
to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the OAU Refugee
Convention (see Refugees
magazine N o. 115). B
A new Deputy for UNHCR
NHCR has a new Deputy High Commissioner. Frederick Barton, a director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, succeeds the Austrian Gerald Walzer who retired in May after a 40-year career with UNHCR. Barton’s latest job was head of
USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. He handled programs
dealing with human rights monitoring in Rwanda, land mine projects in Angola, ethnic tolerance and violence avoidance in Indonesia and programs to promote news reporting in Balkan areas. In 12
years in the private sector he dealt with strategic planning, organizational development and marketing for a wide range of clients. B
“Kosovo must be rebuilt,
recreated stone by stone.”
Bernard Kouchner, the U.N.’s new civil administrator for Kosovo
“They burned and burned
and burned.”
A sister of the Mother Teresa Society describing the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo.
cratic and at peace for the
first time in history.”
U.S. President Bill Clinton on a
visit to the region.
“The province of Kosovo is
now one of the largest
crime scenes in history.”
Louis Freeh, director of the FBI
which is helping investigate war
crimes in Kosovo.
“I do ask the Serbian population to stay in their homes.
We’ve had enough refugees.
We don’t want any more.”
NATO’s Kosovo commander, Sir
Michael Jackson, appealing to
Kosovo Serbs to stay in the
“We must build a Europe
with no front line states, a
Europe undivided, demo-
“The U.S. bomblets look
like round silver toys,
while the British versions
look like soda cans that
have been painted orange.”
A western mine expert warning
children of the dangers of not
only Serbian mines, but also unexploded allied ordnance.
“Thanks to Milosevic’s
policies there are no more
Serbs in Krajina (Croatia),
there are no more Serbs in
Slavonia, there are no
more Serbs in western
Bosnia and Serbia has received about 600,000
refugees who are not being
well cared for.”
Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemiji
of Kosovo, condemning the policies
of Belgrade in the last few years.
“In Kosovo they got cell
phones and psychological
counseling. All we are asking for is maize.”
A frustrated U.N. official in Angola highlighting the world’s differing priorities.
‘This is probably the greatest challenge the U.N. has
faced since the launching
of the concept of peacekeeping in the late 1940s.”
Sergio Vieira de Mello, interim
U.N. chief in Kosovo.
“We estimate that mines
will be an everyday fact of
life of the Kosovar people
for as many as three to
five years.”
U.S. mining expert Donald Steinberg, on the challenge of mine
clearing in Kosovo.
“In the last 10 years, four
times we went into war
with tanks and four times
Serbs came back from war
on tractors.”
Serbian opposition leader Zoran
Djindjic on Serbia’s involvement
in several losing conflicts in
the 1990s.
Fly UP