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Update No 99/03 on the Red Cross/Red Crescent response to the crisis in the Balkans

04-06-1999 Operational Update No 99/03

 General situation  

Weeks of intense diplomatic initiatives have brought the conflict in the Balkans closer to a negotiated settlement. Following the Yugoslav authorities'acceptance of the G-8 plan on 3 June, an end to the war seems within reach. Nevertheless, the details still have to be worked out between the warring parties, and for now the hostilities continue.

Regardless of the possibility of a breakthrough to the Balkan deadlock, the fact remains that there are pressing humanitarian needs in the region, and that they have escalated over the last few weeks.

The deliberate campaign to force Kosovar Albanians out of their homes and villages has persisted up to now. In the last few weeks, additional tens of thousands of people have crossed the borders to the neighbouring countries, increasing the number of refugees in Albania to nearly 450,000 and to 250,000 in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Altogether, close to one million Kosovars have left their homes since the start of the crisis 15 months ago.

As the NATO air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia continues into its eleventh week, its effects are increasingly reaching civilian infrastructure throughout the country. As a direct or indirect consequence, tens of thousands of civilians are living in worrying conditions. The destruction, intended or otherwise, of essential facilities such as water and electricity supply systems and medical structures has deprived the population of the services that these facilities offe r. No less disturbing is the loss of livelihood for thousands as a result of the destruction of factories and other infrastructure, and the risk of ecological and environmental damage, such the oil slick caused by the bombing of refineries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has submitted a memorandum on the humanitarian implications of the air campaign and on the conduct of hostilities to NATO.

Until recently, military action between Yugoslav troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army has relentlessly continued, particularly in areas adjacent to the Albanian border. The danger of a spill-over of the crisis into Albania became imminent last week, with direct shelling of Albanian territory.

There has been a risk that the massive influx of refugees could destabilize neighbouring countries, in particular the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. However, despite the flight of thousands of people from Kosovo, an estimated half a million ethnic Albanians still remain in the province, in lamentable conditions.

For all these reasons, the creation of a physical, political and psychological environment in which the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and similar impartial humanitarian organizations can operate effectively remains imperative. It is incumbent upon the parties concerned to foster such an environment and thus enable these organizations to reach out to civilians affected by the crisis and help relieve their suffering.

 Red Cross/Red Crescent response  

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which is operational in all the affected countries, has been pursuing an integrated approach and a regionally coordinated and flexible response, delivering relief assistance to the intended beneficiaries and adjusting to the evolving situation as needed. The Integra ted Appeal of the Movement is now under review. A revised appeal is planned to be issued at the end of June.

The components of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement held their second meeting on the Balkan crisis on 27 May in Geneva, where they discussed the various planning scenarios until the end of the year, the revision of the Integrated Appeal, the increasing Red Cross activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and adaptation of the assistance programme to the special needs of the winter.

 Federal Republic of Yugoslavia  

From the moment security concerns compelled the ICRC and the International Federation to withdraw from Kosovo in March, the ICRC, which is mandated to conduct Red Cross activities in conflict zones, has been anxious to return to the region. Following the assurances given by President Slobodan Milosevic to the President of the ICRC, Cornelio Sommaruga, on 26 April, and the exploratory mission of the head of the ICRC delegation in Belgrade in mid-May, the first team of ICRC delegates arrived in Pristina on 24 May. This advance team has reopened the office in Pristina and reestablished dialogue with the authorities. It has undertaken preliminary field trips to other parts of Kosovo, such as Mitrovica in the north and Prizren in the south of the province. Its primary goal is to reach people displaced inside Kosovo and bring them relief. This task will be implemented under extremely difficult circumstances (ongoing aerial and ground military operations, heavily damaged roads and bridges, increasingly unreliable communication channels, difficulties in finding local staff, etc.).

In the rest of Serbia, the ICRC, the International Federation and the Yugoslav Red Cross have set up joint field offices, namely in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad and Kraljevo.

The ICRC now has a team of 31 delegates in Yugoslavia while the International Federation has 4.


In the last two weeks, the Red Cross has sent six truckloads of food and non-food items from Belgrade to Pristina. The distribution of these goods in Kosovo through the local branch of the Yugoslav Red Cross has started. Plans are under way for ICRC teams to start making distributions directly to people displaced within Kosovo in the next few days.

At the same time the Red Cross tries to meet the urgent needs of thousands of people who are direct or indirect victims of the air strikes all over Yugoslavia. According to the Yugoslav Red Cross, there are many people temporarily displaced in the country. Each day, a large number of people appeal to the Red Cross for help. In addition, over 500,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia (from the 1992-1995 period) live in Yugoslavia. Nearly half of them receive food aid from the International Federation. The aid is distributed through the Yugoslav Red Cross.

Tens of thousands of people who have fled into Montenegro from Kosovo continue to receive non-food supplies from the Yugoslav Red Cross. Concurrent efforts are made to provide new arrivals with shelter and adequate water and sanitation facilities, as well as to organize waste disposal in collective centers and camps.

Since 24 March, over 335 MT of bulk food and 50,000 individual parcels of emergency food supplies, as well as 16,700 blankets, 14,000 hygiene parcels and 14,146 jerrycans have been delivered by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement to local branches. In addition, a much needed 25,000 m2 of plastic sheeting and 76,160 m2 of tarpaulin were delivered to cover broken windows and damaged roofs. To address specific problems, various donations were made, including a'humanitarian boat'for Novi Sad, where all the bridges on the Danube river have been blown up.

Red Cross medical teams have carried out prompt surveys of the medical situation and of facilities affected by the air strikes (for instance in Aleksinac and Nis, and, most notably, the Dragisa Misovic hospital in Belgrade, which was directly damaged by bomb blasts) and immediately followed them up with deliveries of medical assistance. Generators will be provided for the dialysis department of the Misovic hospital and the central blood transfusion institute in Belgrade to forestall the effects of electricity cuts on medical institutions. So far, 11 hospitals in Serbia have been directly assisted. Part of the assistance provided was a unit containing sufficient surgical material for the treatment of 100 war-wounded people for 10 days.

The April destruction of the Danube river bridges, which supported aqueducts supplying water to Novi Sad, left large sections of the town deprived of water. In an effort to ease the access of some 90,000 affected people to potable water, the Red Cross/Red Crescent delivered two 15,000-litre water tankers to the town. A small treatment station is to be provided to purify the existing water supply from excess iron. In addition to the water quality control sets that the Red Cross has handed over to the town to help in the analyses of water and air pollution, some 27 water reservoirs will be installed with pipes and taps at around 20 locations on the river's east bank. The Red Cross/Red Crescent will deliver oil-absorbent chemicals to Novi Sad to eliminate the oil slick formed in the aftermath of damage to an oil refinery.

Yugoslav Red Cross first-aid teams are active in training the local population, reaching out to shelters, enterprises, schools and even streets throughout the country. The teams have been out assisting public health teams with staffing and provid ing dressing material.

Since the start of the current hostilities, the Yugoslav Red Cross psycho-social support programme has adapted its activities in order to provide emergency psychological assistance to traumatized children and the elderly, as the most vulnerable groups.

The International Federation and the British Red Cross contributed computers, copiers, fax machines and typewriters as part of the programme to consolidate the institutional capacity of the Yugoslav Red Cross.

 Protection / tracing  

While the ICRC had visited some 800 detainees in the country prior to the start of the NATO air campaign, since 24 March it has been impossible to carry out prison visits. The ICRC will continue its efforts to follow up on the whereabouts of all people held in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in connection with the conflict in Kosovo. However, the prevailing war situation renders this task extremely complicated, as demonstrated by the recent air attacks on the prison in Istok during which an undetermined number of detainees were killed, thereby necessitating the transfer of the survivors to other detention facilities.

The ICRC visited two Yugoslav prisoners of war held by the United States, witnessed their release and accompanied them to the border of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In Montenegro, the ICRC has set up a structure similar to that existing in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to enable displaced persons from Kosovo to reestablish contact and obtain news of their relatives. Tracing offices have been opened in Ulcinj, Rozaje, Plav and Tuzi. Telephone calls (two-minute duration to anywhere in the world) constitute one way of enabling displaced people to communicate with their families . So far some 3,600 calls have been made through the Red Cross telephone service and 240 names broadcast on radio in an effort to reach family members.


In Albania, where there were 18,500 refugees immediately before the start of the present crisis, the number has soared to approximately 443,000. Over two-thirds of this population (approximately 305,000) is currently living with more than 38,000 host families, while the rest is accommodated in 49 camps and 278 collective centers. The refugees living with host families are the focus of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement's efforts in Albania. The International Federation has 40 expatriates and the ICRC has 60 expatriates in the country.

Albanian Red Cross staff and volunteers - more than 2500-strong, of whom 500 are directly involved with the refugee crisis at present - remain the means by which the Red Cross/Red Crescent effort is reaching the refugees and indigenous population. All relief distribution is carried out through the Society's network of 36 branches across the country.


The Red Cross Red/Red Crescent has been distributing relief supplies (mainly monthly food parcels) to more than 300,000 beneficiaries, including refugees, host families and other members of the indigenous population in Albania. It is also involved in providing supplies and assistance to the country's hospitals and health institutions, thereby strengthening the national health care system and extending the benefits of the Red Cross Red/Red Crescent efforts in the country to Albanian citizens as well.

The joint delegation has dispatched 2,119 MT of wheat flour, 648,806 food parcels, 114,200 meals ready to eat, 20,300 kg of ba by food, 118,900 kg of biscuits, 5,000 l of oil, 15,000 kg of rice, 12,500 kg of pasta and other food items, including 49,000 water purification tablets. 21,482 hygiene parcels, 102,531 blankets, 6,707 mattresses, 1,701 kitchen sets, 800 boxes of diapers, 11,361 tarpaulins, 1,000 sets of bed linen as well as clothing and boots have also been distributed.

The International Federation, WFP, UNHCR and the Albanian Government signed an agreement on 3 June, which stipulates that, from 1 August, WFP will provide all the food commodities required by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement to feed 300,000 refugees living with host families. The Movement will in addition distribute food to up to 50,000 host families.

Eleven participating National Societies (PNS) directly support refugee camps housing more than 33,200 beneficiaries, while three PNS assist refugees in host families. Their teams are working in Albania as follows:

 Austrian Red Cross :   With some 50 delegates, the Austrian Red Cross is supporting a camp in Shkodra with a maximum capacity of 5000 people (presently there are 2,899 refugees in the camp). The Red Cross retains responsibility for camp management, the provision of food and health care. Recreational areas for children exist, as does a school. 

 Belgium/Netherlands Red Cross Societies : The Vlore based camp will have a capacity for between 5,000 and 7000 refugees when completed. Initially, the PNSs will distribute food parcels to camp inhabitants. All camp management issues will fall to the PNS.

 Danish Red Cross : Ten delegates are in charge of the complete management of the camp in Lezhe and all food distribution for 5,0 00 (currently there are 1500 people in the camp). A second camp is being established for 3,500 refugees.


 French Red Cross : The PNS distributes its own food parcels and monitors food distribution across the country.

 German Red Cross : In Korce, the German Red Cross assists a camp for 5,000 people. The PNS's activities include water supply and sanitation. A medical programme is planned and food parcels are being distributed.

 Hellenic Red Cross : The PNS supports a camp for 2,500 people, being established in the southern town of Pogradec.

 Italian Red Cross : With an expatriate staff of approximately 300, the PNS is running camps in both Kukes (for 5,000) and Kavaje (6,000) with social activities and schools for children. Food distribution, water and sanitation supply are being undertaken in Kavaje.

 Japanese Red Cross : Representatives of the PNS have been in Albania recently to consider the possibilities of establishing basic health care for refugees and host communities.

 Kuwaiti Red Crescent : The PNS will supply food parcels to refugees with host families.

 United Arab Emirates Red Crescent : The PNS is in the process of fully establishing a camp for 10,000 people in the Kukes area; a 200-bed hospital with an operating room is included in the camp.

 Saudi Red Crescent : Working under the umbrella of the Joint Saudi Relief Committee, the PNS will operate several health posts and a 40-bed hospital.

 Spanish Red Cross : The PNS will support a camp for 5,000 being built near Durres in cooperation with Caritas Spain.

 Turkish Red Crescent : This PNS supports a camp for 5000 in Elbasan, with a health post and a field kitchen.


Since the beginning of the crisis, the ICRC tracing agency has registered 306 vulnerable people in Albania (the majority of whom are unaccompanied children, but also include elderly, physically and mentally disabled people). It has received 146 tracing requests while its efforts have led to 30 family reunions. A total of 13,376 names have been broadcast by radio networks and some 19,663 telephone calls have been made through the Red Cross telephone service.

 Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia  

In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, out of an estimated 248,000 refugees, some 146,000 are living with about 26,000 host families registered with the Macedonian Red Cross. Those living with host families are the main focus of Red Cross activities. However, several Participating National Societies are also active in the camps sheltering nearly 100,000 refugees. There are 79 International Federation and 20 ICRC delegates working in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


While in April, over 76,000 refugees living with host families had received relief distributions from the Red Cross/Red Crescent, by 31 May the figure had been increased to over 98,000 beneficiaries. In addition, nearly 8,000 Macedonian host families have so far received their food and hygiene parcels for last month. The final figure of refugees and host families who benefited from Red Cross assistance for May will be higher still, since the Macedonian Red Cross has not yet completed the distribution of last month's rations. Based on the division of labor agreed upon between the humanitarian actors on the ground, the Macedonian Red Cross coordinates all distributions to refugees living with host families. The UNHCR provides food through the Catholic Relief Services, while the International Federation provides non-food relief items. In May, these included 61,356 hygiene parcels, 28,394 blankets, 24,793 mattresses, 21,900 diapers, 2,002 tents, in addition to cooking sets, soap and lice shampoo. Furthermore, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement assists small groups of newly-arrived refugees who are not yet registered, but in need of emergency relief aid.

The Red Cross is also taking care of vulnerable Macedonians. Some 5,700 priority social cases - mostly mentally handicapped and people unable to work - received hygiene parcels from the Red Cross while the NGO InterSOS provided food. In July, this programme will be expanded to other categories of poor and needy Macedonians, with the objective of reaching 60,000 families.

An ICRC medical team monitors the official border crossing points at Blace, Jazince and Tabanovce as well as unofficial border crossing areas to give immediate medical assistance to arriving Kosovar refugees if need be.

In addition Red Cross/Red Crescent teams from seven countries are working in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as follows:

 American Red Cross: Capacity building of the Macedonian Red Cross; support for the food programme for refugees in host families and social cases; specialists to assist ICRC at tracing tents in seven camps.

 Finnish Red Cross : Transport activities for the relief programme, ongoing technical support and installation of electric lighting at camp and warehouse facilities.

 French Red Cross: Will initiate fresh food distribution to refugees in host families; food programme for babies living in host families; distribution of radios to host families.

 German Red Cross : Provision of 65-bed hospital, staffing, medical supplies, and water treatment facilities at the Stenkovec I-Brazda camp, referral hospital for Stenkovec II camp (both camps together shelter 30,000 refugees).

 Norwegian Red Cross : Provision of a 100-bed hospital, staffing and medical supplies for the Cegrane camp; with more than 37,000 refugees, the biggest one in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

 Palestine Red Crescent : Health staff for Cegrane field hospital.

 Turkish Red Crescent: Camp management and h ealth care at the Bojane camp.


To date, the ICRC tracing agency has registered 889 vulnerable people in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (including unaccompanied children, elderly, physically and mentally disabled people). It has received 1,282 tracing requests while its efforts have led to 184 family reunions. A total of 284 names have been broadcast by radio networks.