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ICRC activities in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Update January 2002

08-02-2002 Operational Update

The impact of ten years of conflict in the Balkans is still felt by hundreds of thousands of people in Yugoslavia. Their loved ones are missing, displaced, detained, or left behind to fend for themselves. For them, the Red Cross endeavours to find answers, to alleviate their suffering, to provide assistance, protection, and psychological support, and to promote the principles of international humanitarian law. This report outlines the activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) at the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002.

 
 
   

 1. Shedding light on the issue of missing persons  

After a decade of armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the fate of nearly 25,000 missing persons is still unknown, leaving their families torn between hope and despair. From the very start, the Red Cross has worked on behalf of these families from all communities, assisting them in their efforts to determine the fate of their loved ones. In FRY, it is mainly working on cases related to the conflicts in the Republic of Croatia (2,684 missing persons) and Kosovo (3,781).

 Collecting information from families  

As part of its joint effort with the Yugoslav Red Cross (YRC) to actively trace the missing, the ICRC has published two editions of the Book of persons missing in relation to events in Kosovo in the hope that more information might be gathered from the public, the authorities and possible witnesses. Current records now contain some 3,780 names of the missing from all communities. The Book , which is readily available for consultation in all Red Cross offices, is now being updated and its third edition will be printed in spring 2002.

 Facilitating the process of identification  

Tragically, exhumations have shown that, for some families, the identification of mortal remains is the only way to find out what has happened to missing loved ones. To facilitate the work of forensic experts, arrangements have been made for families to travel to places where photographs of personal belongings and clothing found on mortal remains were displayed (Kosovo), or to places where they might be able to confirm a tentative identification (Croatia). In addition, books of belongings have been made available to the families of the missing. Last year, in cooperation with the authorities, the YRC, and family associations, the ICRC started its systematic collection of valuable ante-mortem data (AMD) with 508 pieces of AMD relating to the Kosovo crisis. Collection of AMD will begin shortly in connection with missing persons in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Republika Srpska).

 Supporting family associations  

The ICRC strongly believes that the families of the missing deserve its full support. It has therefore assisted three family associations not only in practical matters but also in making their voices heard. This includes moral, financial and logistic support, as well as expertise in the area of communication. In cooperation with national organizations and experts in the field, a network of psycho-social support for those who need it has also been set up.

 
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 2. Maintaining links between detainees and their families  

 Prison visits  

The ICRC has a mandate to visit detainees held in connection with conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. In July 1999, more than 2,000 Kosovo Albanian detainees were transferred from Kosovo to prisons in Serbia. Since then, the ICRC has regularly visited not only those detainees but also persons arrested in relation to the hostilities in southern Serbia. These visits are intended to preserve the physical and moral integrity of detainees and to ensure that they enjoy decent material conditions of detention.

 Red Cross messages and family visits  

In order to restore or maintain contacts between detainees and their families, the ICRC also offers services such as conveying Red Cross messages and organizing family visits for prisoners in Serbia proper, Kosovo, and the Republic of Croatia.

 Transport of released detainees  

In cooperation with the authorities, the ICRC makes arrangements for released detainees falling within its mandate to return to their homes and families. Since 1999, the vast majority of ex-detainees, mainly Kosovo Albanians, have been escorted home, leaving fewer than 170 still detained in FRY prisons.

 Family reunification  

Since 1999, around 470 vulnerable persons (children, single mothers, the elderly, psychiatric and serious medical cases) have been reunited with their families. Most went from Kosovo to the rest of Serbia and Montenegro, but some also went to Kosovo and Macedonia. Last year, some 30 persons from Kosovo were reunited with their families in Serbia proper.

 
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 3. Protection activities in southern Serbia  

With the deterioration of the security situation in southern Serbia in late 2000, the ICRC, in coordination with local Red Cross branches, reinforced its presence there by opening two field offices in the towns of Presevo and Bujanovac. Close monitoring of the situation in and around the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) enabled the ICRC to examine efficiently the situation of persons arrested and/or abducted in relation to the crisis. After the peaceful settlement of the armed conflict in late May 2001, and re-entry of the Yugoslav security forces into the GSZ, the ICRC continued its monitoring work, particularly with regard to the process of return of most of the IDPs from Kosovo to southern Serbia. At present, the ICRC continues to visit persons detained in relation to the crisis.

 Mine-awareness activities  

Since the crises left the area infested with landmines, mine-awareness activities were launched in late 2000 and stepped up in summer 2001. Workshops were organized for Red Cross staff from the municipalities bordering Kosovo, and new staff were employed to collect data and assess the situation in villages affected by mines.

To raise the awareness of children, who are exposed to the dang er of mines every day, and to promote safe practices in mine-contaminated communities generally, two theatre companies (one Serb and one Albanian) were commissioned to perform a series of specially adapted plays based on " Little Red Riding Hood " . Since October 2001, the play has been performed for some 10,000 children throughout the affected area. Simultaneously, brochures and leaflets have been distributed to the audiences and to the population in general.

 Promotion of international humanitarian law  

Together with the YRC, the ICRC took part in the multi-ethnic police training courses organized by the Yugoslav government and the OSCE for newly recruited policemen of Serb and Albanian origin from Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac municipalities.

A number of training seminars were also organized to promote international humanitarian law in the area. The seminars also dealt with topics relating to the Red Cross Movement and ICRC activities, and highlighted the issue of the protection of journalists during conflicts. Furthermore, information sessions for local authorities and opinion-makers were organized in municipalities bordering Kosovo to spread knowledge and understanding of the ICRC and the Geneva Conventions.

 Assistance  

After initial deliveries of close to 200 tonnes of food and other items to troubled areas last year, the focus of aid distribution shifted to displaced people returning from Kosovo to their home villages. In partnership with the Serbian Red Cross, 50 tonnes of basic food and 25 tonnes of hygiene articles and other items such as clothing and footwear were distributed to nearly 7,000 returnees.

The vulnerable population's increased health-care needs were also given due attention. Assistance was regularly sent to t he YRC humanitarian pharmacy in Vranje and its hospital, and to health centres in Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac.

To respond to the needs of some 3,000 civilians living in conflict-stricken or remote mountain areas, a mobile clinic service was created in April 2001 in cooperation with the local health centres. By the end of 2001, its teams visited nearly 2,700 patients, providing them with basic health care, essential drugs and medical follow-ups.

The ICRC also contributed to the reopening of three health posts closed down for lack of medical personnel (the last one, in Muhovac, reopened in November 2001).

Last but not least, some 50 municipal water boards were given water pumps, gas chlorinators, lab equipment for water-quality control and other supplies necessary for producing adequate quantities of potable water.

 
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 4. Assisting the displaced  

Since June 1999, the ICRC and the YRC have regularly been bringing significant amounts of aid to a large portion of the 228,500 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Kosovo. The aid has included food, hygiene and baby parcels, and other basic necessities. Although the criteria for assistance were streamlined last fall, the programme still covers 70,000 beneficiaries in Serbia — old-age pensioners eligible for social benefits, the disabled, single-parent families and low-income families with children under 15.

 Community-based projects  

Projects designed to encourage social interaction between IDPs and the resident population have been implemented to avoid situations where IDPs feel isolated or left on the sidelines of society. Planned activities will be carried out through the existing YRC network of youth and old-people's clubs and community centres. It is hoped that they will be extended to areas with high concentrations of IDPs.

 Income-generating projects  

In a move away from mere aid handouts, which can create dependency, other forms of support have been developed to enhance coping mechanisms that promote self-sustainability and encourage beneficiaries to become actively involved in improving their own circumstances. Pilot projects have been set up in the agricultural sector (farming/livestock/fisheries) and in small-scale agro industries (e.g. workshops for farm machinery). IDPs with agricultural backgrounds who have access to arable land but no means of starting an income-generating activity are encouraged to take part in these projects to stimulate their own food production and boost household income. All these projects are supported by the local Red Cross and the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture.

 
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 5. Support health developmen t

 Basic health services pilot project in Kraljevo  

Last year, agreement was reached with the Ministry of Health on a three-year integrated basic health services pilot project designed to meet primary health-care needs in Kraljevo municipality. The project focuses on meeting the IDP's basic health needs through the existing health system by means of an integrated and non-discriminatory approach.

Kraljevo municipality has the country's highest number of IDPs (25,700), refugees, and social cases (6,269) relative to its population of 150,000 in which almost one in every four is vulnerable. The project, which is designed in a way that will benefit the entire resident population, is going to support:

a. Improvement of local capacity to manage health programmes.

b. Development of a sustainable primary health-care system based on cost-effective treatment and priority public health programmes specifically emphasizing the needs of IDPs and vulnerable groups.

c. Reduction of the burden of disease and disability among target beneficiaries and the rest of the resident population.

Local ownership and the active participation of key members of the local community will also be fostered through a process that involves a steering group, peer-group work, workshops, study tours, surveys, an Internet-based peer network and the development of a social marketing and communication component.