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

13-07-2001 Operational Update

 The International Committee of the Red Cross has been permanently present in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia since 1991. During the NATO 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 persons missing in relation to the conflict, assists the internally displaced persons (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 its regular supply and supports local Red Cross structures.  



 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 the bulk 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, Buj anovac and Presevo, the ICRC, in coordination and cooperation with the local RC 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 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 almost 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 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 t he 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 missing relatives, so that the organisation's records now contain close to 3,650 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.

 Photo Displays  

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. In cooperation with the Family Association of the Missing from Kosovo, the ICRC has transported hundreds of people to Gracanica and Zvecan where the displays were organised. Since March 2001, the ICRC has been making available a book of photographs of these belongings to numerous families from Serbia and Montenegro in the hope of obtaining identification of the clothes possibly belonging to their missing relatives.

 AMD Collection  

In a further step to try and facilitate the identification process, the ICRC, in cooperation with the Office for Refugees, Displaced and Missing Persons (associated with the FRY President's Office), plans to organise systematic collection of ante-mortem data from all families displaced from Kosovo who have reported missing relatives. The data collected are to be handed over to the authorities in charge of identification and sh ould help speed up the work of forensic experts.

For this purpose, the Red Cross joined forces with Belgrade University's Forensic Medicine Institute to organise a training seminar on AMD collection. The 35 seminar participants, coming not only from the ICRC and the Yugoslav, Serbian and Montenegrin Red Crosses, but also for the first time from the families of the missing, are eventually going to make up joint teams assigned with AMD collection.

There is also growing hope that the FRY authorities and UNMIK will soon institutionalise forms of cooperation in tracing the missing in Kosovo, as a proposal for setting-up a working group has already been tabled for consideration.


 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 of MissCom, 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 disseminating 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-social 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  

Since July 1999, around 1880 detainees have been released from prisons in the FRY. Some 1670 of them have been escorted home by ICRC teams. In early June 2001, the ICRC was still visiting 260 detainees held in 28 places of detention in Serbia proper and Montenegro in connection with the conflicts in the region. In Kosovo itself, the ICRC was visiting 95 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 mid-June, over 165 detainees in Serbia proper and four in Kosovo have been visited by families receiving ICRC assistance.

Family visits are also organised for people detained in relation with the former conflicts in Croatia. This year, 163 persons have been transported to visit a total of 39 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 2,880 RCMs have been exchanged between detainees and their families, bringing the total to 40,188 since July 1999, when visits resumed after the end of the NATO bombing campaign.


Last winter, the ICRC assisted detainees with 4,000 sets of clothes and various other forms of ad-hoc assistance such as bed linen, bunks, mattresses and sundry medical and hygiene items.

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 4. Family reunions  


Since 1999, 446 vulnerable persons - children, s ingle 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, 8 persons from Kosovo were reunited in Serbia proper.

 Macedonian Refugees  

Following the recent outbreak of hostilities in neighbouring Macedonia, several thousand refugees have found shelter in Serbia proper - more than 3,000 in Presevo municipality and between 1000 and 1500 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.

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 5. South Serbia  


With the deterioration of the security situation in South Serbia late last year, the ICRC, in coordination with the local RC branches, reinforced its presence there and opened two sub-offices, the so-called " antennas " , in the towns of Presevo and Bujanovac. From there, it closely monitored the situation inside and outside the Ground Safety Zone especially in terms of physical integrity, security, freedom of movement and violation or destruction of property of the civilian population. When necessary, it also 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. It was able to visit 4 persons, detained by the ethnic Albanian armed groups and subsequently released, and 7 persons detained by the Serbian authorities.

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 Ground Safety Zone (GSZ), by which the Zone effectively ceased to exit, the Red Cross has continued to monitor the situation, particularly with regard to the process of return of most of the IDPs from Kosovo to South-Serbia. The ICRC also continues its visits to persons still detained in relation to the crisis.


 Mine-Awareness Activities  

In November 2000, immediately after the flare-up of hostilities in the GSZ, especially in the municipalities of Presevo and Bujanovac, a distribution of mine-awareness posters and leaflets to the local population was started in order to inform them about the danger of mines and unexploded ordnance in the region.

After the so-called relaxation of the buffer-zone, a campaign of giving mine-awareness presentations in schools was initiated with the aim of targeting as many children as possible, since the end of the school-year was drawing near.

Besides, a training of teachers has been carried out in larger schools, while more sessions for teachers and village heads are to follow during the summer when a MA training workshop for local YRC staff is also planned. All this was done with the precious assistance of the mine-awareness team from Kosovo and Metohija.

In addition, an assortment of mine-awareness material (posters, leaflets for adults, leaflets for children) is being widely distributed to the population in the area and a bilingual radio spot is broadcast on four local radio stations.


 Dissemination Activities  

Together with the YRC, a dissemination session on the Movement/IHL/HR is scheduled for July 13 for the Multiethnic Police Course organised by the OSCE and government authorities in Bujanovac.

In another joint effort with the YRC, a presentation on the ICRC/YRC/IHL will be given to Nis University Law School students and a similar presentation is planned as part of a 7-day workshop for 120 young people in Medvedja. Other dissemination sessions are also in the pipeline for municipal administration personnel, village heads, medical staff, RC volunteers and youth in Kursumlija, Medvedja, Bujanovac and Presevo.

In recognition of a need to continue targeting the local media, a seminar for journalists is also planned for the months to come.


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 in and around the Sectors B and D of the buffer-zone where the tense situation cooped up some 25,000 people in almost complete isolation. Since then, nearly 60 tonnes of additional food supplies and more t han 10 tonnes of non-food assistance were delivered to the area.

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 6. Assistance to displaced persons  


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. Furthermore, these people have been assisted with hygiene parcels and other ad hoc necessities.


 New Criteria  

In June, 2001, more than half (135,000) of the IDPs in the FRY were assisted in this manner, in accordance with the new criteria set up by the ICRC and the YRC, stipulating as people eligible for food and hygiene assistance those who are: a) in collective accommodation, b) single parent families, c) children below 18 years of age, d) pregnant women, e) women over 60, f) men over 65 and e) mentally and physically disabled/chronically ill. Meanwhile, these criteria have been extended to include those IDP families which have up to five unassisted members, while lar ger families receive two parcels a month.


 Food Parcels  

In the first half of the year, more than 11,000 metric tonnes of food have been distributed to the beneficiaries. The content of the parcels has been accommodated to the demands voiced by the beneficiaries: canned meat and fish have been introduced at the expense of equivalent quantities of pasta and rice.

 Hygiene & Baby Parcels  

A notable change has also been introduced in the distribution of hygiene parcels in that they are now no longer distributed to families but to individual beneficiaries. As for baby parcels, some 10,000 infants up to two years of age are at present receiving this form of assistance. Both types of beneficiaries are entitled to one hygiene and/or baby parcel once in 3 months.

In addition, more than 16,000 IDPs in Montenegro, selected according to the same criteria, as well as around 1,000 babies, benefit from this type of assistance.


 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)  

Since January 2001, a new approach to assistance has increasingly been considered by the ICRC. It aims at moving away from mere dependency on aid handouts in a way in which proper forms of support will be initiated and developed to enhance coping mechanisms that promote self-sustainability and encourage beneficiaries to become agents of their own development.

A number of IGP Pilot projects has been established mostly in the agricultural sector. The projects will be reviewed and the approach modified where possible to incorporate larger numbers of the beneficiary case-load, thus reducing dependency on regular and classic (food handouts) external aid.

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 7. Making soup kitchens self-sustaining  


The soup-kitchen programme was set up by the ICRC and the YRC back in July 1999 to assist up to 100,000 vulnerable among the resident population. It was implemented in partnership with the German, Danish, Italian, Canadian and American National Societies.


 Hot Meals  

Since 1999, over 40 million hot meals have been prepared in 140 kitchens and distributed from 348 distribution points. In June this year, more than 72,000 vulnerable were still receiving one meal per day. Bearing in mind that for many of them it was the only real meal they could have, over 60% of the kitchens went to cooking the food 7 days a week.

 Making Soup Kitchens Self-sustaining  

The Red Cross has also started to look into ways of making the soup kitchens self-sustaining. In cooperation with the YRC, the ICRC has initiated a process of supplying essential equipment to soup kitchens with the aim of reducing operational costs of the programme. In parallel, training courses are being provided to local authorities, RC branches and soup-kitchen personnel in order to improve the efficiency of the programme. Here, a strong emphasis is placed on greater self-reliance of the local communities, in terms of their assuming more responsibility for the execution of the programme. By developing more efficient mechanisms of support for the most vulnerable, the new soup-kitchen management should also be able to significantly reduce dependence on external aid.

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 8. Improving water supply and quality  



Since the NATO air strikes, when the ICRC inte rvened 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  

In the depressed areas of southern Serbia, both the local resident population and the people displaced there from Kosovo, are at constant risk of a major disruption in the water supply. Prompted by urgent requests from local Red Cross branches, the ICRC has been providing emergency assistance to prevent the total collapse of the water supply system.


 Assistance to Local Water Boards  

Consumables and chlorinating systems are currently being delivered to local water boards in the municipalities of Prokuplje, Pirot, Sokobanja, Boljevac, Priboj and Bajina Basta. Based on recent assessments, 6-10 new projects are planned for execution by the end of the year.


 French RC Program for Local Water Boards  

In co-operation with the ICRC WatHab department, the French Red Cross is supplying sand and chemicals to Aleksinac water-board and spare parts for water valves to Surdulica municipalities. Also, a leakage-detection equipment was supplied to Novi Pazar water-board, along with a one-week training for local technicians.

 SRC Program for Public Health Institutes  

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

In the wake of the Water Quality Control seminar in Novi Sad, in March 2001, the ICRC and the SRC started organising training courses and workshops, giving lab people a first-hand opportunity to get acquainted with the equipment and techniques they will be using at work.

Furthermore, the process of fitting fume cupboards and upgrading ventilation systems has started in two PHIs to improve on-the-job safety and working environment for the lab staff. This aspect of the programme will also be implemented in the remaining six PHIs.

Besides, some projects suggested by the PHIs have already started in one of the institutes and are in preparation for the other seven. The projects are focused on environmental issues related to water quality and are part of the programme's training stage, which includes introduction of new working methods and activation of equipment donated earlier.


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 9. Supporting health development  


Since early 2000, the ICRC has been carrying out a programme of providing 35 hospitals in Serbia and five in Montenegro with surgical supplies. The hospital authorities have so far expressed great appreciation for the adequacy and timeliness of this form of assistance.

For two years now, the ICRC has been supplying 46 basic drugs for chronic diseases to 12 humanitarian pharmacies of the Red Cross across Serbia on a monthly basis. Beneficiaries of the programme are refugees, IDPs and vulnerable members of society.

Moreover, a pilot project on Primary Health Care / Basic Health Services in the municipality of Kraljevo is being developed in close collaboration with the national Ministry of Health. Emergency support to priority health-care outreach programmes was started in April 2001 in the municipalities of Bujanovac and Presevo.


 NRC Reconstruction Project in Sandzak  

In February, the Norwegian Red Cross completed the final, third phase of the reconstruction work, valued at almost half a million German marks, on the Muscular Dystrophy Centre in Novi Pazar, which had been damaged by NATO bombs in the spring of 1999. The hospital's roof, treatment pool B and children's ward were reconstructed from scratch, while heating and plumbing installations were rehabilitated and improved. The reconstructed hospital, the only one of its kind in the country, was officially handed over in March this year.

The NorCross is the third National Society to assist in the reconstruction of medical institutions in Serbia. Previously, in the Belgrade suburb of Baric, the Swiss Red Cross rebuilt a health post which was destroyed by NATO bombs back in 1999, while the Finnish Red Cross carried out a similar project on the Children's Hospital for Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, part of the Dragisa Misovic Hospital in Belgrade, which was officially handed over beginning of June this year.

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 10. PNS involvement  

 Currently Active  


  •  American Red Cross - Carries out the soup-kitchen programme in Novi Sad (one distribution centre, 45 local RC branches). In view of the planned termination of their involvement in the SK programme, it has secured a two-month ration of food supplies to cover the needs till the end of August, when evaluation of SKP in Vojvodina is scheduled.


  •  German Red Cross - Soup-kitchen programme (five distribution centres in Belgrade, Sabac, Nis, Zajecar and Vranje, 66 local RC branches) - providing some 46.5% (33,496) of the overall daily number of hot mea ls in FRY.


  •  French Red Cross - Supplies the necessary equipment, spare parts and material to water-boards in Aleksinac, Surdulica and Novi Pazar in order to restore full capacity of their water-supply systems. When necessary, it also organises training for local technicians. Undertaken rehabilitation of 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.


 Projects Completed  


  •  Belgian Red Cross - Roma programme. As part of its 1999/2000 winterization programme, provided the Roma with clothes, footwear, stoves and other ad-hoc assistance.


  •  Canadian Red Cross - Till the end of 2000, worked on the soup-kitchen programme (one distribution centre in Novi Sad, 45 local RC branches).


  •  Danish Red Cross - Until recently worked on the soup-kitchen programme (2 distribution centres in Kraljevo and Uzice, 25 local branches).


  •  Finnish Red Cross - In 2000, completed reconstruction (worth 1.5m. DEM) of the Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases Centre for Children in the Dragisa Misovic hospital in Belgrade, which was heavily damaged in the 1999 NATO air campaign.


  •  Italian Red Cross - Till June, 2001, worked on soup-kitchen programme (two distribution centres in Kragujevac and Pozarevac, 24 local RC branches).

  •  Japanese Red Cross - Between August 1999 and spring 2000, carried out a programme of supplying 12 humanitarian pharmacies in Serbia with 46 basic drugs for chronic diseases.


  •  Swiss Red Cross - In 2000, completed a 330,000 DEM reconstruction of a health post in Baric, near Belgrade, which had been destroyed in the 1999 NATO bombing campaign.

 Yugoslavia : 300 national / 35 expatriate staff

 Operational Budget : Sfr 97,069,111 (US$ 54,077,499)

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ICRC operations are financed entirely through voluntary contributions from the States

party to the Geneva Conventions, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,

supranational organisations and private donors.