Crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Update 11.04.01
11-04-2001 Operational Update
The recent crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia led to the displacement of thousands of civilians and the isolation of an indeterminate number of others, who were trapped in remote villages around Tetovo and whose needs remained unknown for some time. Overall, the number of civilians in need of humanitarian assistance, including resident populations directly affected by the conflict, was estimated at 24,000.
As part of the International Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement's immediate response to the crisis, the ICRC evaluated the food, medical, and water and sanitation needs of the population affected by the conflict and, in cooperation with the Macedonian Red Cross, provided emergency food and non-food assistance to those in need; this involved the registration of some 20,000 displaced persons. The ICRC accordingly strengthened its team in FYROM with extra delegates coming mainly from other ICRC delegations in the region. The ICRC's present focus is on assessing the situation in villages in Tetovo and Skopska Crna Gora regions that remained inaccessible for several weeks and taking appropriate action. It will continue monitoring the situation in the country and, by building up a contingency stock sufficient to cater to the needs of 60,000 people, remain poised for any eventuality.
As part of the Movement's strategy, the International Federation is helping strengthen the Macedonian Red Cross Society's relief and logistics capacities, and giving support to their communication department. The American and German Red Cross Societies are also contributing to the Movement's response to the crisis.
ICRC activities are over and above the objectives budgeted for in the Emergency Appeals 2001 and have greatly stretched the ICRC's budget of 1,615,848 Swiss francs (932,669 US dollars / 1,059,434 EUR), for the country for 2001.
Following the eruption in February 2001 of fighting in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia between the Macedonian armed and police forces and armed groups, tens of thousands of civilians fled their homes, and indeed the country in some cases, for fear of being caught up in the confrontations. The ICRC and the Macedonian Red Cross registered around 20,000 internally displaced people from the Skopska Crna Gora (north of Skopje) and Tetovo areas in the northern part of the country. Approximately 14,000 of them were registered in Skopje, and the rest in other parts of the country. A few thousand people sought refuge in Kosovo. An estimated 7,000 people fled to Turkey, 2,000 went to Albania while others went to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro.
The conditions of the displaced persons have varied from villagers who fled with little or nothing to town-dwellers who were mainly able to leave with vehicles and personal belongings. The majority found shelter among host families, a lthough a small number were accommodated in collective centres.
Fighting in the Tetovo region raised concern about the plight of civilians inside the town and in the surrounding villages, and whose humanitarian needs, particularly their medical situation, remained unknown.
For the civilians who remained in Tetovo, daily life, such as commercial activities and schooling, was seriously disrupted by the fighting. The town was reported to be noticeably quieter, with many shops closed, although some food shops were still open. It was difficult to estimate the number of people left in the town as many might simply have stayed indoors for safety.
The week of 2 April was marked by a complete cessation of military activities in the Tetovo region, following an offensive launched into hillside villages by the Macedonian army on 25 March and completed on 31 March. Today Tetovo town is once again bustling with people and traffic, the shops have reopened and commercial activity has resumed. A significant number of the 20,000 displaced people who were registered by the Macedonian Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of fighting in the Tetovo region have returned to their homes. Although Tetovo and its region are now calm, the situation is not fully back to normal. The previously isolated villagers in the hills above Tetovo are no longer cut off from the rest of the country, and the supply lines have been re-established. Nevertheless the consequences of the fighting will still be felt for some time by the population and the ICRC will continue to assess the humanitarian situation of the civilian population and provide assistance accordingly.
The presence of police and military check points in the villages above Tetovo has contributed to a certain restriction of movement for the population although there are increasing signs that supplies are getting through. In Sipkovica (a village north of Tetovo), for example, reports indicate that shops have replenished their stocks and restaurants are functioning. This is a positive sign as the village has traditionally been a trading post for the surrounding villages.
These positive signs here, however, belie the fact that humanitarian needs remain in other areas. Pockets of people in remote hillside villages and some residents who were directly affected by the fighting continue to need assistance.
Skopska Crna Gora region
The situation is different in Skopska Crna Gora, north of Skopje, where the army recently launched another offensive to push back the " National Liberation Army " (NLA) into Kosovo. The government declared the offensive a success on 30 March and informed the public that all armed groups had retreated to Kosovo.
Now that the guns appear to have been stilled, it is expected that a negotiated solution to the crisis will follow. However, it is difficult to predict the outcome of such negotiations and therefore it is imperative to continue to monitor the evolvement of the situation.
HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE by the International Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement
ICRC activities in response to the crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
The ICRC, with the help of the Macedonian Red Cross, responded immediately to the needs of the displaced. They registered 20,000 internally displaced -- a first wave of 1,000 from the Skopska Crna Gora area and then a later wave from the Tetovo area north west of Skopje -- and provided them with assistance. Between mid-February and the end of March the ICRC and the Macedonian Red Cross distributed food parcels, wheat flour and rice and non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets, hygiene parcels and baby parcels. All in all, a total of 24,000 internally displaced persons and residents directly affected by the fighting received assistance.
The institution also immediately reinforced its team in the country with extra personnel, including specialists in relief, medical, water and sanitation who evaluated current and potential future needs among the displaced population and residents in Tetovo.
During a preliminary assessment mission to Tetovo Hospital , the ICRC saw that there was a small number of wounded, including civilians, and delivered adequate basic surgical materials for the treatment of 200 wounded. Monitoring of the hospital's needs is ongoing. The ICRC was also able to arrange for a medical team from Tetovo Hospital to travel to Selce in order to provide care to the sick.
In the second phase of ICRC assistance, the institution distributed food and blankets to some 2,000 people in villages north of Tetovo , namely Vesala, Brodec, Sipkovica and Selce, and evacuated over 50 civilians, mainly women, children and the elderly from the villages to join relatives in Tetovo town.
The ICRC's current operational priorities are to conduct assessments in villages in the Tetovo and Skopska Crna Gora regions not yet visited and assist the resident population where necessary. It is vital for the ICRC, the only international humanitarian organization providing assistance to the affected villages, to maintain a presence in order to closely monitor the situation and gather any information from villagers about problems they may experience, and to follow up on information about arrests. IDPs and people living in isolated villages will receive assistance (individual food parcels, wheat flour, blankets, baby parcels, hygiene kits, kitchen sets) over the coming weeks, in accordance with need.
Another matter of paramount importance to the ICRC is the need to replenish its contingency stocks, which were sufficient to assist 30,000 people but were depleted by the emergency distributions, and to maintain them at double the original level in order to ensure that the institution remains flexible to adapt to any evolvement in the humanitarian situation.
The three tables in annex to this update give the outstanding needs in order to build up emergency stocks for 30,000 people in Pristina and 30,000 people in Skopje, and to replenish other stocks used, namely ICRC stocks in Belgrade and International Federation and WFP stocks in Skopje. To maximize speed in distributing relief to persons in need, the ICRC in Skopje and Pristina borrowed stocks of wheat flour, individual food parcels and hygiene kits from other ICRC delegations, partners and organizations present in the Balkans region.
Joint statement by the ICRC and the International Federation
In order to ensure good coordination of the Movement response to humanitarian needs arising from the violence, the ICRC and the International Federation issued a joint statement on 22 March 2001.
This statement, which ensued from discussions between the International Federation, the Macedonian Red Cross and the ICRC, defined the roles of the three institutions and other components of the Movement thus: that in this situation the ICRC, in conformity with the Seville Agreement, assumes the Lead Agency role in directing and coordinating the Movement's operation in the country, in cooperation with the Macedonian Red Cross as its major partner there; that the International Federation plays the lead role in mobilizing the requisite expertise to boost the Macedonian Red Cross Society's operational, communications and management structures.
The coordination of the Movement's operation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is entrusted to a Skopje-based task force presided over by the ICRC, comprising representatives of the International Federation, the Macedonian Red Cross and Participating National Societies.
Activities of the International Federation in response to the current situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
The International Federation is helping strengthen the Macedonian Red Cross Society's relief and logistics capacities, especially of the latter's 34 branches. Support is also being given to the communication department in order to enhance relations with the national media; updates have been d istributed daily to inform the public on the Macedonian Red Cross Society's activities and concerns. In the longer term, the International Federation will contribute to the enhancement of the Macedonian Red Cross Society's communication strategies.
The American and German Red Cross Societies are also contributing to the Movement's response to the crisis; the American Red Cross by supporting the Macedonian Red Cross programme management and financial reporting, and the German Red Cross by aiding its disaster preparedness capacity.
Distribution of relief by the Macedonian Red Cross continues, meeting the needs of displaced people who had already registered for assistance.
Regular ICRC activities
Despite the crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ICRC's scheduled activities remain on course. These primarily involve identifying and monitoring needs in terms of family reunification and the protection of minorities among the 9,000 or so Kosovar refugees still in the country, and maintaining tracing activities and other services to restore family links for the refugees.
In order to enhance the Macedonian Red Cross Society's emergency preparedness to cope with increased instability in the country or elsewhere in the region, the ICRC continues to provide assistance in the form of material and technical support and training to the National Society's tracing and dissemination activities in particular, and in general maintains its financial, material and technical assistance towards capacity building within the Macedonian Red Cross .
The ICRC provides technical, material and financial support to ensure that the law of armed conflicts is integrated in military training and planning at all levels of the armed forces. By providing similar support to the Ministry of the Interior and the police forces, the institution seeks to enhance their awareness of the need to integrate the law of armed conflicts, basic humanitarian principles and human rights law in police training.
Through the " Promotion of Human Values " school project, the ICRC promotes humanitarian principles among young people by organizing teacher training seminars, workshops and support lectures for teachers and students in the various communities. It also continues to prepare the Macedonian Red Cross Society to take over the programme eventually.