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ICRC activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Update October 2001

01-10-2001 Operational Update

 The International Committee of the Red Cross has been permanently present in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia since 1991. During the NATO air campaign, it remained in the country, working together with the Yugoslav Red Cross to alleviate the suffering of the affected population. Since then, the Red Cross has built up wide-ranging assistance programmes, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.  

    

 The ICRC visits people detained in relation with the crisis in Kosovo, traces the missing, supports families with missing relatives, assists the IDPs to overcome the trauma of living in exile and develop coping mechanisms that promote self-sustainability, supports health development, secures safe drinking water and supports the work of the local Red Cross.  

 

   

 1. Social context  

In view of last year's political changes in the FRY and the international response to them, hopes of improvement in the humanitarian situation of different vulnerable groups have been awakened, showing fairly good prospects in the mid term.

In the short term, however, the needs of the socially destitute people, the displaced, the health institutions, water authorities will have to continue to be met. The Red Cross will, therefore, in the months to come, carry on with a number of its assistance programmes. Initiatives are also being devised to support local structures in taking over the responsibility of providing for their vulnerable population. At the same time, in the wake of the recent relaxation of the buffer-zone in the southern Serbian municipalities of Medvedja, Bujanovac and Presevo, the ICRC, in coordination and cooperation with the local Red Cross branches, carries out its traditional activities of protection and assistance.

The ICRC will likewise continue with its detention activities, further encouraged by this spring's mass releases of Kosovo Albanian detainees freed under the federal and republican amnesty laws. It will also persist in supporting the families of the missing through their drama of not knowing the fate of their dearest. In this, it stands ready to contribute to any effort that can lead to solutions of this painful issue affecting thousands of people in the country.

 
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 2. Developments concerning missing persons  

 General - Kosovo  

For more than three years now, the ICRC has been assisting the families of those who went missing during and after the conflict in Kosovo to find out what happened to their loved ones. It has repeatedly approached the authorities, as well as influential political leaders in both Belgrade and Pristina, urging them to take all possible steps to provide answers. It has cooperated with other organisations active on the issue and worked in the field to gather additional information.

 Book of Missing  

One of the recent steps the ICRC took was to publish a second edition of the Book of Missing Persons from Kosovo, which contains 3,525 names collected from all communities between January 1998 and mid-March 2001. Since then, more families have approached the ICRC to report about their missing relatives, so that the organisation's record s now contain close to 3,780 files of people unaccounted for. The book was widely distributed to the relevant authorities and humanitarian organisations and is available for consultation in all Red Cross offices.

 Facilitating the Identification Process  

As exhumations are carried out in Kosovo, the ICRC tries to ensure that families from all communities, including those displaced from Kosovo, are able to take part in the identification process. So far, this has involved helping the families of missing persons presently living in Serbia to view the photos of clothes and personal belongings found during the exhumations of some 260 bodies in Kosovo. The ICRC has been making available a book of photographs of these belongings to numerous families from Serbia and Montenegro, which resulted in 13 presumed identifications that will have to be followed up.

In a further step to facilitate the identification process, the ICRC, together with the Yugoslav Red Cross and representatives of the Family Association of Missing Persons in Kosovo, started collecting Ante Mortem Data (AMD) from all the families displaced from Kosovo who have reported a missing relative. So far, 281 forms concerning as many missing persons have been submitted to the authorities and should help speed up the work of their forensic experts.

In the wake of the discovery of mass graves at a number of sites in Serbia proper, the ICRC offered its services to the relevant authorities. When deemed relevant by the forensics, it offered to compile CD-ROMs containing pictures of belongings and clothing found on the mortal remains exhumed. By the end of September, one such CD-ROM with data on 77 bodies was compiled. The procedures for its use and application are currently being discussed with the authorities.

 Supporting Cooperation Between FRY and UNMIK  

Since last May, the Yugoslav authorities and the UNMIK administration have set up a new forum, known as the Contact Group, in which they cooperate on all issues related to missing persons and prisoners. At this stage, the ICRC maintains close contacts with the representatives of this forum and supports their dialogue by providing updated information and offering its services to facilitate the identification process.

    

 Former conflicts  

For full ten years now, the ICRC has maintained close contacts with the families of the missing, facilitating, whenever possible, their contacts with the relevant authorities active in the exhumation and identification work in the Republic of Croatia. Furthermore, it continued to participate in the meetings where the Croatian and FRY sides exchange relevant information and discuss ways of cooperation, regarding detention and missing issues.

The ICRC has also worked on promoting the tracing services of both the YRC and the ICRC and regularly invited families to report their cases to the Red Cross. It has also maintained regular contacts with other organisations in order to gather additional information.

 Support To Families  

The ICRC firmly believes that the families of the missing require full support. It has, therefore, assisted 3 such associations not only on practical matters but also in making their voices heard. This form of assistance includes moral, financial and logistic support, as well as expertise in the field of communication. Moreover, in close cooperation with national organisations and experts in the field, the ICRC has also identified a network of psycho-s ocial support for those who need it.

 
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 3. Maintaining links between detainees and their families  

In contexts of tension and armed conflict, the ICRC visits prisons to keep track of detainees, to ensure that they have decent conditions of detention and are treated humanely, and to enable them to keep in touch with their families.

    

 Prison Releases     / Detention visits  

Since July 1999, around 1,910 detainees under ICRC mandate have been released from prisons in the FRY. Some 1,700 of them have been escorted home by ICRC teams. In September 2001, the ICRC was still visiting some 220 detainees (of whom just under 200 were Kosovo Albanians) held in 20 places of detention in Serbia proper and Montenegro in connection with the conflicts in the region, while in Kosovo itself, it was visiting 236 people held in detention places under UNMIK and KFOR jurisdiction.

    

 Visits to Prisoners  

In addition, families who would otherwise not be able to travel for security or financial reasons, have been assisted by the ICRC to visit detained relatives in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia. By the end of September, 267 ICRC-assisted family members visited detained relatives in Serbia proper and 6 in Kosovo.

Family visits are also organised for people detained in relation with the former conflicts in Croatia. This year, 281 persons have been transported to visit a total of 54 detainees there.

 Exchange of RC Messages  

The ICRC facilitates contacts between detainees and their families through the exchange of Red Cross messages. So far this year, some 3,935 RCMs have been exchanged between detainees and their families, bringing the total to 41,263 since July 1999, when visits resumed after the end of the NATO bombing campaign.

 
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 4. Family reunions  

 Family Reunions  

Since 1999, 455 vulnerable persons - children, single mothers, elderly,

psychiatric and serious medical cases - have been reunited with their families mainly coming from Kosovo to the rest of Serbia and Montenegro, but also to Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania. This year, 17 persons from Kosovo have been reunited in Serbia proper.

 Macedonian Refugees  

Following the outbreak of hostilities in neighbouring Macedonia, several thousand refugees have found shelter in Serbia proper - between 8,000 and 9,000 in Presevo municipality and 1,500 to 2,000 in the Sandzak municipalities of Novi Pazar and Tutin. The ICRC immediately offered its services in re-establishing contact between some refugees and their family members who remained in Macedonia. After the recent peace initiatives in the fYROM, some of the refugees have started to return to their homes there.

 
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 5. Protecting civilians  

 Southern Serbia  

    

 Protection of the Civilian Population  

With the deterioration of the security situation in Southern Serbia late last year, the ICRC opened offices in the towns of Presevo and Bujanovac. From there, it closely monitored the situation inside and outside the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ), especially in terms of physical integrity, security, freedom of movement and violation or destruction of property of the civilian population. When necessary, it intervened, strictly within the scope of its mandate, and reported to all parties involved. The ICRC also followed up cases of persons arrested and/or abducted in relation to the crisis.

After the peaceful resolution of the conflict in late May, 2001, and re-entry of the Joint Yugoslav Security Forces in the final and most volatile Sector B of the GSZ, by which the Zone effectively ceased to exit, the Red Cross continued to monitor the situation, particularly with regard to the process of return of most of the IDPs from Kosovo to Southern Serbia. The ICRC continues its visits to persons still detained in relation to the crisis.

    

 Mine-Awareness Activities  

Mine awareness (MA) activities have intensified since during the beginning of this summer. Trained mine awareness instructors inform the villagers about possible danger and collect information about incidents and observations done by the residents in the villages affected by mines, unexploded objects (UXO) and/or cluster-bomb units.

In order to better address children daily exposed to this danger and to promote safe practices in mine-contaminated communities, the ICRC engaged two theatre groups (one Serb and one Albanian) to perform a series of plays based on the children's all-time favourite " Little Red Ridinghood " story, specially adapted to convey MA messages.

    

 Promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL)  

Together with the Yugoslav Red Cross, the ICRC continues its participation in the OSCE-organised Multi-ethnic Police Training Courses which are taking place in the Serbian Police's Training Centre in central Serbia. The courses are organised for newly recruited policemen of Serb and Albanian origin from Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities.

 Assistance  

Significant quantities of assistance were also sent to the troubled municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac. Early this year, more than 100 tonnes of food were delivered to 70 villages where the tense situation cooped up some 25,000 people in almost complete isolation.

Since then, the ICRC has been assisting displaced people returning from Kosovo to their original villages in the former GSZ. The ICRC has also undertaken to rehabilitate several health-posts (Muhovac and Cerevajka) situated in the ex-Ground Safety Zone to improve the local population's access to proper healthcare services.

 
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 6. Assistance to displaced persons  

 General  

Since June 1999, the ICRC and the Yugoslav Red Cross have been providing monthly food parcels (12 kg of wheat flour and 10 kg of other basic food items per person) to a large portion of the 228,500-strong population of people displaced from Kosovo and Metohija. Furthermore, these people have been assisted with hygiene parcels and other ad hoc necessities.

    

 New Criteria  

In September this year, the ICRC continued streamlining its criteria for assistance to ensure a minimum of economic security to the most vulnerable IDP households. The new criteria now apply to some 80,000 beneficiaries in Serbia proper - old-age pensioners eligible for social benefits, single-parent families, the handicapped and lowest-income families with children under 15.

 Food, Hygiene & Baby Parcels  

The monthly food ration remained the same, consisting of 12 kg of wheat flour and a food parcel. The IDPs eligible for assistance under the new criteria also received hygiene and/or baby parcels on a quarterly basis. In the past three months, in Montenegro, the ICRC was providing hygiene parcels to 11,120 IDPs. Children up to the age of two were assisted with over 1,400 baby parcels.

 The Plight of the IDPs  

While the most vulnerable displaced people continue to receive material assistance, their main preoccupation will remain to be the uncertainty as to their future. This distressing lack of perspective, placing a heavy strain on their mental and physical well-being, is a concern that needs to be urgently addressed.

    

 Income-Generating Projects (IGPs)  

These projects aim at moving away from mere dependency on aid handouts in a way in which proper forms of support are initiated and developed to enhance coping mechanisms that promote self-sustainability and encourage beneficiaries to become agents of their own development.

To that effect, a number of pilot projects has been established mostly in the agricultural sector and small-scale agricultural industries (e.g. workshops for agricultural machinery). They are promoted to the IDP population and returnees with agricultural background and skills, who have access to arable land but no means of starting an income-generating activity, to stimulate their own food production and increase household income. All of the designed projects are reinforced by the support of the Local RC and active involvement of the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture.

 
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 7. Health  

 General  

Since the NATO air strikes, when the ICRC intervened to ensure access to drinking water for people cut off from their regular supply, continuous efforts have been made to keep the most vulnerable communities provided with safe water and to secure regular water quality control.

    

 Emergency Assistance  

More than 45 water boards have been assisted with the necessary material to produce adequate quantities of water and to maintain its quality. As this program will be closed by the end of the year, an exhaustive assessment was done to determine the most vulnerable municipalities for future initiatives. As a result, 8 municipalities (Krupanj, Ljubovija, Batocina, Knic, Cicevac, Razanj, Ribarice and Crna Trva) will be assisted in the final phase of the program.

    

 SRC Program for Public Health Institutes  

Early in 2000, the Swedish Red Cross and the ICRC launched a programme to help 7 public health institutes (PHI) in Serbia and one in Montenegro to monitor the quality of drinking water. The PHIs have since been supplied with laboratory equipment, instruments, reagents and glassware required for water testing.

 Basic Health Services Pilot Project in Kraljevo  

In August 2001, a pilot project designed to meet the Primary Health Care (PHC) needs of the population in Kraljevo municipality, was agreed with the Ministry of Health (MoH). The project focuses on ensuring that the basic health needs of the IDPs are met through the existing health system in an integrated and non-discriminatory approach.

Kraljevo Municipality (Tot. Est. Pop. 152,000) has the country's largest number of IDPs (25,694) refugees and social cases (6,269) relative to its population in which almost one in every four residents is a vulnerable case. The entire resident population is expected to benefit from the planned health interventions.

Specifically, the project will support:

a. Improvement of local capacity to manage health programs

b. Development of a sustainable primary healthcare system based on cost-effective interventions and priority public health programs with a specific emphasis on meeting the needs of IDPs and Vulnerable Groups (VGs)

c. Reduction of the disease and disability burden among the target beneficiaries (IDPs and VGs) and the population of the municipality

Local ownership and active participation of key stakeholders will be fostered through a process that will include: the establishment of a Kraljevo Pilot Project Task Force, peer group work, workshops, study tours, surveys, an Internet-based peer network and the development of a social marketing and communication component.

 Red Cross Pharmacies  

Distribution of 37 essential drugs to IDPs through selected Red Cross pharmacies (agreed to be part of the state pharmacy system) in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Kraljevo and Nis regions started in September this year. On a monthly basis, more than 7,000 IDPs are expected to benefit from this project. Most of the drugs provided are meant for treatment of a range of chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart and chronic respiratory conditions, metabolic and mental disorders.

Activities in support of basic health needs of the IDPs and the civilian population have continued in southern Serbia, covering the municipalities of Presevo and Bujanovac. More than 5,000 (i.e. 5%) of the local resident population, including Albanian and Roma minorities as well as the most vulnerable (i.e. the elderly, IDPs and refugees), have been assisted to date through a combination of mobile clinics and targeted assistance in selected outpatient health posts.

 
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 8. PNS involvement  

 Currently Active  

    

  •  German Red Cross - runs the soup-kitchen programme together with Yugoslav Red Cross ensuring a daily hot meal to approximately 60,000 vulnerable persons.

  •  French Red Cross - In September, completed reconstruction of 7 outpatient health posts in Kraljevo area. Earlier on, in July, it completed its wat-hab programme of supplying the necessary equipment, spare parts and material to water-boards in Aleksinac, Surdulica and Novi Pazar. This summer, it undertook to rehabilitate an old people's home in Risan, Montenegro.

  •  Swedish Red Cross - Supports 7 public health institutes in Serbia and one in Montenegro in their task of controlling the quality of drinking water. Supplies them with lab equipment, instruments, glassware and chemicals for water-testing. Organises training of lab staff. Continued as a bilateral project from 1 July till the end of 2001.