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Update No 99/04 on the integrated and regional strategy implemented by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in response to developments in the Balkans

17-11-1999 Operational Update

 A) General situation  

The conflict that erupted in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the end of March 1999 has ended, with long-lasting economic and social repercussions for the entire region. These are the results of thousands of human losses, massive population displacements, and extensive damage to infrastructure and residential areas. Since the Military Technical Agreement between NATO and the Yugoslav armed forces was signed and UN resolution 1244 was adopted in June, most of the one million Kosovo Albanian refugees have returned home to start rebuilding their lives under the authority of UNMIK, the civil administration put in place by the international community. UNMIK comprises four pillar organizations (UN, UNHCR, OSCE and the EU) and along with such agencies as WHO and FAO, coordinates the work of some 250 NGOs and international organizations present in Kosovo. Thanks to their efforts, but also individual initiatives, the rehabilitation process is gaining momentum. The prospects are however grimmer for Kosovo's dwindling numbers of minority groups. They mostly live in enclaves, surrounded by a hostile environment, and the 40,000 KFOR troops, complemented by a UN international police force, hardly manage to protect them from reprisals.

Over 200,000 Serbs, Roma and members of other minorities have left Kosovo for Serbia and Montenegro. However, Serbia in particular can ill afford this additional influx of needy people. Living conditions are precarious. Large sectors of the population are vulnerable not only as a result of the recent war, but also because of the general economic decline resulting from ten years of confl ict in the region and trade sanctions against Yugoslavia since 1992. The fragile population includes half a million long-term refugees, who fled previous conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and still rely on assistance. In the absence of a functioning social safety net, these people are becoming increasingly vulnerable. The international humanitarian presence is limited.

While the international community has mobilized substantial resources for the reconstruction of Kosovo, the question of the province's status remains unresolved. The impact of the Balkans crisis is still making itself felt in neighbouring Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYR of Macedonia), both of which remain fragile. Critical political, social, economic and humanitarian issues have to be addressed if a basis for long-term stability is to be created in the region.


 B) The Movement's broadened response  

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation) are continuing a wide range of programmes throughout Yugoslavia, which were initiated during the crisis and have been adapted to the different realities prevailing in Serbia/Montenegro and Kosovo today, and to the situation in Albania and the FYR of Macedonia.

The integrated and regional strategy, devised in March 1999 in view of the significant regional dimensions of the Balkans crisis, combines the international scope of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement with the experience of local structures, notably the National Societies. This broad approach distinguishes the Movement from other players in the region, enabling it to carry out protection and assistance activities thr oughout Yugoslavia and in neighbouring countries, thereby ensuring a humanitarian response across the region.


The strong involvement of Participating National Societies (PNS) is an essential feature of the Movement's comprehensive approach to humanitarian needs in Serbia/Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The ICRC has set up specific PNS units in Pristina and Belgrade. By early November some 27 projects had been initiated or were being carried out by PNS in Kosovo and Serbia in a wide range of sectors, including soup kitchens, management support to hospitals, rehabilitation of social and medical facilities, water and sanitation, agronomy and psycho-social support to help the population deal with post-traumatic stress.

 C) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia  


Unlike the Dayton agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN resolution 1244 does not address the issue of missing persons and the status of detainees, which therefore remain unclear. The ICRC has made a point of opening a dialogue with both the Yugoslav authorities and the international administration in Kosovo, and offering its services to them and other players in the region. For example, the ICRC is at present regularly visiting some 2,000 detained people, after negotiations with the Serbian Ministry of Justice. Of these 2,000, some 1,000 were previously reported missing in Kosovo. The ICRC managed to put all these prisoners in touch with their anguished families. Over 250 prisoners who have been released by the Yugoslav authorities since June were transferred back to Kosovo with ICRC support.

The ICRC has also restored contact between Serbs rema ining in Kosovo and their relatives in Serbia and Montenegro. Lastly, the ICRC organizes medical transfers and family reunions for vulnerable people belonging to the Serb minority in Kosovo. The ICRC is now deeply involved in the search for missing people, both on the Serb and the Kosovo Albanian sides. 

In Kosovo, the ICRC visits people detained by KFOR.

In addition to its traditional activities, the ICRC seeks to respond better to families'urgent needs for appropriate emotional support. Administrative and legal questions arising from their situation also have to be addressed. To that end, it runs eight Family Link Centers in Kosovo.


The different situations prevailing in Serbia/Montenegro and Kosovo call for different approaches.

 In Serbia and Montenegro  , where there are far fewer international humanitarian organizations than in neighbouring Kosovo, the ICRC places emphasis on providing direct assistance to people displaced from Kosovo (around 230,000) and other most vulnerable groups (around 100,000). The situation makes these people particularly vulnerable and the possibilities for integration into a coping system are limited. The ICRC's emphasis is on direct assistance and support for some of the structures providing essential services (e.g. health, water). The International Federation is concentrating its relief programmes on up to 360,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina still living in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Red Cross, through its network of 179 branches in Serbia and Montenegro, provides an unparalleled logistics and distribution channel to beneficiaries for the Movement, the UN, and other organizations supplying relief assistance.

These assistance programmes include:

- distribution of food and hygiene parcels for internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees: monthly food parcel and bulk food distributions for IDPs, which began in August and are at present in their fourth round of distributions (for a total of 220,000 beneficiaries); complementary bulk food programmes for up to 360,000 refugees, in partnership with the WFP; hygiene parcels for up to 225,000 refugees and 8,100 mothers with young children; and 780 cleaning kits for refugee collective centres...

soup kitchens , which provide cooked food and dry rations for 100,000 most vulnerable people whose conditions have worsened as a result of the recent conflict, and who do not have the means to cook for themselves or live in isolated areas.

- a winter programme (providing items such as winter clothes, shoes and stoves) is being put in place for 322,500 beneficiaries.

free medicines are distributed to 20 humanitarian pharmacies, covering the needs of an estimated 700-800,000 people (IDPs, refugees and social cases).

support to health facilities , including surgical material for and repair work on major hospitals, and material for carrying out light repairs to health centers.

support for the water board . At present 14 urban water supply systems are either under evaluation or already undergoing repairs. In addition, a water-trucking programme is underway in Novi Sad.

 In Kosovo , the I CRC's aim is to help returnees, minorities and other people to start rebuilding their lives and regain a degree of self-sufficiency. All programmes are coordinated with the UNHCR and the other humanitarian actors in the region. In providing food assistance, the ICRC aims to fill the gaps and to help sectors (such as the most vulnerable) that the wide-ranging programmes run by the WFP cannot cover. The programmes that the ICRC is focusing on most are soup kitchens, the cleaning of wells, and assistance for isolated minorities. The ICRC is working with the local Red Cross in all these programmes.

- during the summer, the most immediate food needs were met by general distributions in areas not covered by the WFP's wide-ranging programme. These activities are now being progressively adapted and transformed into a kitchen programme for people who have no cooking facilities. There are now kitchens providing meals for some 10,000 beneficiaries, while the final objective is to reach some 25,000 this winter.

- a winter programme (winter clothes and boots) for 62,000 people is being launched. The beneficiaries are the most vulnerable families, selected with the support of local Red Cross branches. Distribution of stoves has already begun.

an agronomy programme is underway, comprising seed distributions for 17,000 households and repairs of agricultural machinery at PNS-run workshops. Seeds and fertilizer have already been distributed. An additional fertilizer will be supplied next spring so as to ensure crops in June. In addition, a need for seeds has been identified among the Serb minority living in the enclaves. A distribution will be carried out in order to allow seeding before the winter.

- support to health facilities includes renovation and management support for 3-4 major hospitals, and repair work on 12 health centres. At the same time, the blood transfusion institute in Pristina, covering the needs of 6 hospitals, is receiving material assistance.

water and sanitation programmes aim to ensure sufficient quantities of safe drinking water. This involves cleaning and disinfecting contaminated wells throughout the whole province. 2,500 have already been cleaned, and it is planned to complete another 4,500 by the end of the year. The programme is advancing at a rate of 100-150 wells per week.

- repair work has begun on 50 schools . It is planned to integrate more schools in the programme in the future, mainly with the support of Participating National Societies.

The Federation's activities in Kosovo are focused on two programme areas:

- assisting the development of the local Red Cross  structure, capacity and programmes in Kosovo, to equip it to provide efficient delivery of humanitarian assistance from the International Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement and other humanitarian organizations, and to promote a strong and sustainable Red Cross which will contribute to the development of civil society in Kosovo.

- a psycho-social programme which aims to provide traumatic stress interventions, psychological support and therapeutic social activities for thousands of beneficiaries through a network of five Red Cross centres and five mobile teams.

 Mine awareness  

12 ICRC mine-awareness officers based in each of the main towns of Kosovo were trained. Their task is to travel to mine-affected areas to discuss the mine and UXO problem with local representatives, identify mine-awareness needs, and work out suitable forms of training for the local population. Reports on these visits to villages are forwarded to mine-clearance organizations active in Kosovo for technical follow-up as necessary.

Among the many agencies involved in mine awareness and demining activities, the ICRC was designated by the WHO as the lead agency for gathering data on mine/UXO incidents. ICRC teams collect information on people who died or sustained injuries due to mines/UXO. Locations of incidents, as well as any mine injury forms collected by other organizations, are forwarded to the UN Mine Action Centre for inclusion in its database, as well as to demining agencies.

 D) Albania  

When the conflict in Kosovo came to an end on 15 June, the Albanian Red Cross, supported by the International Federation, was carrying out food and non-food distributions to 344,735 refugees staying in host families and to 39,238 host families. The distributions of food parcels, hygiene parcels, blankets, mattresses and other relief items were carried out through the network of 36 Albanian Red Cross branches. Medical and surgical supplies were also provided to Albanian health facilities. At that time, 15 Red Cross and Red Crescent Participating National Societies were implementing projects in Albania assisting the refugee population: managing camps, health posts, water and sanitation projects, and social welfare assistance (including educational and recreational kits). The ICRC also provided tracing and Red Cross message services, and organized the evacuation of war-wounded from Kosovo to hospitals in Albania.

The return of refugees from Albania to Kosovo was sudden and rapid; by 25 June more than 175,000 refugees had already returned to Kosovo, and there are now currently only about 5,000 refugees remaining.

The Albanian Red Cross and the International Federation have continued to provide relief assistance to those refugees remaining in host families (currently only about 4,000) and their host families, providing food, hygiene and baby parcels. This will continue, with distributions of additional blankets, and also winter clothes for the refugees. The changing situation has also enabled the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement to increase its assistance to socially vulnerable local Albanians (now up to 70,000 people), with distributions of food and hygiene parcels. In addition, relief assistance is being provided to 5,500 war-affected people in the area of Kukes and Has.

 ICRC visits to prisons continue - In addition to activities related to the Kosovo conflict, the ICRC pursues its visits to places of detention in Albania. 24 such places (prisons and police stations) have been visited this year. The ICRC continued to follow up the cases of 11 registered detainees.

 Mine awareness on the border with Kosovo - The after-effects of the conflict persist in Albania in the form of mines laid along the northern frontier as well as unexploded ammunition used in cross-border activities during the hostilities. All actors including the Albanian army, AFOR, international and national NGOs and the ICRC co-ordinate the distribution of information to inform refugees returning home of the dangers. 96,000 mine- information leaflets produced by ICRC were distributed.

 Cooperation with the National Society - Institutional support for the Albanian Red Cross is continuing, supporting ARC headquarters and branches and strengthening its disaster response capacity. Training has been provided, and the International Federation is assisting the ARC with the provision of Disaster Preparedness warehouses at regional and central level, and the provision of emergency contingency relief stocks.


 E) FYR of Macedonia  

 Assistance provided by the International Federation / Macedonian Red Cross - At the height of the Balkans Crisis, in June, the International Federation / Macedonian Red Cross provided assistance to more than 289,000 beneficiaries in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). These included 152,340 refugees living in host families and 21,374 host families, who received food (in conjunction with WFP) and hygiene and baby parcels, as well as blankets, mattresses and other relief items, all distributed through the network of 34 Macedonian Red Cross branches. In addition, medical care (two emergency response unit field hospitals), water and sanitation, and social welfare assistance (including educational and recreational kits), were provided to those refugees staying in camps. 

With the sudden and rapid repatriation of the majority of the refugees to Kosovo, the Macedonian Red Cross, with the support of the International Federation, provided assistance at the borders for those returning. They then shifted the focus of their assistance to 72,000 socially vulnerable families (about 275,000 beneficiaries) in the Macedonian population, as well as continuing to provide assistance to those refugees remaining in host families, and to the host families. There are now about 20,000 refugees remaining in FYROM.

 ICRC activities to protect refugees and restore family links - The ICRC provided a tracing and communications network to help refugees retain family links and contact relatives in third countries, identifying vulnerable persons separated by the conflict in Kosovo, and providing for family reunions. The ICRC continues to support refugees still in camps by: re-establishing family links, helping the refugees to contact their relatives in other countries, and collecting information from refugees on the whereabouts of their relatives. The ICRC has presented several cases of vulnerable people to the relevant embassies for family reunification in third countries. More than 300 people have been successfully traced and reunited.

The Skopje logistics base has supported the ongoing relief operations in FYROM, as well as the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement's relief operations in Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, is has served as a strategically located logistics base for the relief operations following the earthquakes in Turkey and Greece.

For the remainder of 1999, the Macedonian Red Cross / International Federation will continue to provide relief assistance (hygiene and baby parcels, and food from WFP) to those refugees remaining in host families (currently about 13,000), and to the host families, and relief assistance to 72,000 local socially vulnerable families. Preparations are being made for winter with distributions of additional blankets, winter jackets and winter shoes for the refugees.

Institutional support is also continuing for the Macedonian Red Cross headquarters and branches, to assist in strengthening its emergency response and disaster preparedness capacity. Some of the surplus relief items from this year's relief operations are being organized into emergency contingency stocks for the Macedonian Red Cross.

 F) Bosnia and Herzegovina  


This month the Federation will complete the final distributions of a six-month supply of food and hygiene parcels, blankets and supplementary food to 50,000 Kosovo refugees (Albanians, Serbs and Romas), host families and social cases in the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.