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Red Cross/Red Crescent activities in Kosovo: January-March 2001

10-04-2001 Operational Update

 The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is engaged in a wide-ranging operation to provide emergency and longer-term help for victims of the conflict in Kosovo. Vulnerable groups throughout the province benefit from these programmes, which include protection activities (focusing on missing persons, detainees, minority groups), food and medical assistance, psycho-social programmes, reconstruction of homes and schools, water-supply and sanitation work, action against landmines and support for the local Red Cross.  


 National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies from 12 countries are involved, along with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The activities of the Movement are coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  


The events in Kosovo have left thousands of families without news of missing relatives. Members of all communities are caught between hope and despair, tormented by uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones. To date, more than 3,500 people are still unaccounted for.

  •  Collection of data  

Following the publication in June 2000 of the first Book of Missing Persons listing those missing in Kosovo, the ICRC has continued to update the information the book contains through its contacts with the various communities, visits to hospitals and morgues, and cooperation with the organizations in charge of the exhumation and identification process. Since the book was published, 385 cases have been resolved and 498 more cases have been reported to the ICRC.

A second edition of the Book of Missing Persons containing 3,525 names will be published in April 2001. It will be widely distributed to all relevant authorities in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and to local communities, in the hope of gleaning further information. 

  •  Identification  

The ICRC, working in partnership with other humanitarian organizations, has developed new initiatives this year in its attempt to ascertain the fate of the missing.

In February 2001, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published a Book of Belongings for Kosovo containing 750 photos of clothing and personal effects that were found on some 200 bodies recovered during the year 2000.

The ICRC, which maintains constant contact with the families of the missing after they file their tracing requests, is responsible for making this book available to the families, both through its offices and during its visits to isolated communities. The book is also on view at ICRC offices in Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

A quiet environment and the suppor t of experienced staff who have received special psycho-social training is essential to help the families face this ordeal, torn between the hope that they will not recognize their relatives'belongings and the dread of continuing uncertainty.

So far, out of the 889 families who have consulted the Book of Belongings in Kosovo and Serbia proper, 50 have thought they recognized their relatives'belongings. They have been put in contact with the OSCE identification project, which compares the autopsy report on the body found wearing those belongings with the ante-mortem information available on the missing person concerned. If there is a match, the identification is confirmed and the OSCE pathologist signs a medical death certificate. The administrative death certificate and the reburial of the body are organized by the civil administration of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

  •  Exhumation  

The ICRC chairs a working group made up of the OSCE, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Missing Persons Unit of the UNMIK civil police, the UNMIK Department of Public Exhumations, and the Forensic Institute in Pristina. The objective is to adopt a plan of action, a budget and a strategy for the management of future exhumations, which are required for over 30 known burial sites.

  •  Support for family associations  

Contacts were strengthened with the few family associations that exist in order to support them in their advocacy and lobbying activities. The associations were also provided with some basic office equipment.

  •  Obligation of the authorities to provide information  

Regular approaches are made to the authorities in Kosovo and Belgrade to raise their awareness of the issue of missing persons and to remind them of their responsibility to provide the families with answers. Within the Joint Implementation Commission set up by the Kumanovo agreement, the ICRC attends meetings of the Sub-commission on Missing Persons which bring together the authorities of both sides on a weekly basis to share information on specific cases


During the first quarter of 2001, a total of 252 detainees from Kosovo were released in Serbia, most of them under the Republican and Federal Amnesty Acts, and were transported back to Kosovo by the ICRC. On one occasion, on 10 March, 99 detainees were released together and transferred to an ICRC compound in Pristina. Thousands of family members and friends came to welcome them back. The operation was coordinated with the international security force KFOR and the UNMIK police to ensure crowd and traffic control. The Kosovo Red Cross offered first-aid services and the International Federation provided psycho-social support for the families.

In the meantime the ICRC continued to facilitate contacts between detainees and their families, with the exchange of over 1,600 Red Cross messages and the organization of four family visits to places of detention in Serbia since the beginning of the year. In Kosovo, the ICRC is currently visiting nine places of detention.


In view of the heightened tension, the ICRC increased the frequency of its visits to isolated communities throughout Kosovo in order to monitor the security situation and make representations to the relevant authorities whenever necessary. It also continued to follow the activities of regional working groups on the return of minorities to Kosovo and to express its concern in view of the prevailing security conditions.

The ICRC recently carried out an assessment on the access of minorities to social welfare services. These communities are generally aware of the existence of such services but some of them, in particular the Roma and Ashkalia, have difficulty in fulfilling administrative requirements. A few cases which had not been registered despite apparently meeting the criteria were referred to the Social Welfare Centre.

In addition to the follow-up of individual medical cases, close contact was maintained with the newly appointed Minority Officer of the Department of Health and Social Welfare to raise concerns about access to health facilities, drug supplies and the transfer of patients to referral facilities.


  •  Assistance for the population affected by the situation in the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ)  

The security situation in the Ground Safety Zone since the end of 2000 has prompted the displacement of communities to the Gjilan/Gnjilane area and made it difficult for some isolated villages in the GSZ to obtain food and basic services.

In the Ground Safety Zone, an initial distribution of wheat flour and individual food parcels was conducted for 432 families.

For those who fled the Ground Safety Zone to take refuge with host families in Gjilan/Gnjilane and the Kamenica area, a second round of food distributions for some 2,000 displaced people was carried out in cooperation with the Kosovo Red Cross. At the Gjilan/Gnjilane transit centre, about a dozen displaced persons received two hot meals a day from the Netherlands Red Cross soup kitchen.

  •  Assistance for refugees from Macedonia  

Following the influx of refugees prompted by the events in northern Macedonia, UNHCR requested ICRC support for emergency food distributions. During the month of March, over 1,500 Macedonian refugees in host families received food and baby parcels via the Viti/na and Kaqanik/Kacanik municipal Red Cross branches.

In the Prizren area, where some 6,300 refugees were estimated to have arrived during the second half of March, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement joined forces with UNHCR, international and local NGOs and the municipal authorities to cope with the emergency. Ready-to-eat meals were distributed to some 1,000 refugees who had arrived   on foot over the snow-covered mountains. Refugees housed in the Prizren transit centre were given two hot meals a day by the Belgian Red Cross soup kitchen. Assessments were carried out to determine further needs in terms of food, baby kits and medicines. Satellite phones were taken to remote villages to allow refugees to contact their relatives, and the Kosovo Red Cross helped find host families in the Prizren area.

  •  Soup kitchens  

The soup kitchen programmes run by the American Red Cross (Mitrovica North and South, Vushtrri/Vuctrin, Pristina), the German Red Cross (Peja/Pec), the Belgian Red Cross (Prizren) and the Netherlands Red Cross (Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kamenica, Viti/na, Ferizaj/Urosevac, Kacanik) served meals to over 12,000 vulnerable individuals every day.

With the end of the emergency phase, the se programmes are due to close down by the end of April. Efforts were made to find alternatives for families who still need assistance; as a result, some 600 families (around 2,400 beneficiaries) will be aided by the Centre for Social Welfare.


In Kosovo, a predominantly rural society where the average size of a farm is 1 to 3 hectares, families can hardly survive on agricultural production. While this may ensure their daily subsistence, a cash income is essential for access to health, education and other basic services. It has therefore been a priority for the ICRC, together with National Red Cross Societies, first to improve agricultural production and then to set up income-generating projects for the most vulnerable groups.

  •  Ferizaj oil factory  

The ICRC is cooperating with the European Union project to relaunch the production of sunflower oil by bringing the Ferizaj oil factory back into operation in summer 2001. From the beginning of March the ICRC began delivering sunflower seed and fertilizers to farmers for the planting of 1,000 hectares. The harvest will be delivered to the oil factory, which has contracts with more than 600 farmers, in September 2001.

  •  Integrated reconstruction project  

In three villages in the Mitrovica area, where the Danish Red Cross has started rebuilding 60houses, the beneficiaries will also receive wheat seed and fertilizer from the ICRC.

  •  Tractor repair  

The Spanish Red Cross tractor repair workshop in Suhareka/Suva Reka closed down in March with over 1,000 tractors repaired. A new workshop will be opened in Malisheva/Malisevo municipality. Having found local garages which will run the programme, the Spanish Red Cross is now in the process of identifying the beneficiaries.

Two other tractor repair programmes are being run by the Norwegian Red Cross in Rahovec/Orahovac and Glogovc/Glogovac.

  •  Milk production  

The Spanish Red Cross presented a project proposal covering 1,000 farmers in Suhareke/Suva Reka municipality who supply milk to the Prizren dairy. The project comprises the distribution of milking cows, repairs to cowsheds, and the training of farmers so as to optimize production through better feeding of their cattle. The Norwegian Red Cross is considering the possibility of rehabilitating the milk collection centre in Rudnik.

  •  Support for the Ulpiana Agricultural School  

The ICRC continued to provide this school with agricultural input for its demonstration plots aimed at improving agricultural practices. The Norwegian Red Cross is currently awaiting approval of a proposal to provide the school with technical and financial support to enable it to repair agricultural machinery, improve milk production and update the school curriculum. The proposal includes the exchange of teachers and students with a Norwegian agricultural school.


Health activities in Kosovo, mainly run by National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies under ICRC auspices, aim at improving access to health services for commu nities living in isolation and at strengthening primary health-care structures by rehabilitating ambulantas (health posts) and clinics and training their staff.

  •  Support to Mitrovica hospital  

Work on Mitrovica North hospital continued with ICRC support. Windows, doors and roofs were repaired; the electrical wiring system was overhauled and repairs to the central heating system are under way. The training of staff in waste disposal techniques was concluded in February. 

  •  Finnish Red Cross  

In Gjilan/Gnjilane hospital, renovation of the paediatric ward was completed and an operating theatre, a TB ward and the gynaecological department are now undergoing repairs. In Gjilan/Gnjilane and Viti/Vitina municipalities a project to renovate and equip two clinics and seven ambulantas and to train their staff was concluded during the quarter. 

  •  Belgian Red Cross  

In Zhupa Valley the Belgian Red Cross mobile unit continued to visit remote villages and isolated communities and to support the Reqan/Recane health centre. In addition, an agreement was reached with the municipality for the rehabilitation of Mushnikove ambulanta so that it can be operational by the beginning of April.

  •  Turkish Red Crescent  

The mobile clinic continued t o provide health care in villages in the Prizren and Dragash/Dragas area.

  •  French Red Cross  

The French Red Cross, in cooperation with the Italian Red Cross, started building a prefabricated medical facility with 26 beds, which will provide secondary health care in Llapje Sele/Laplje Selo.

  •  Japanese Red Cross  

Construction of a clinic in Decan/Decane is near to completion and medical equipment was given to ambulantas in the same municipality.

  •  German Red Cross  

Following its rehabilitation, equipment was provided for the clinic in Shtrpce/Sterpce.

  •  Italian Red Cross  

Support for rehabilitation and equipment of Peja/Pec hospital continued.

  •  Norwegian Red Cross  


At the Shtime/Stimlje Psychiatric Institute, staff received support and training to enable them to provide appropriate care for patients and to increase their autonomy. 

  •  Danish Red Cross  

Started one year ago, the Danish Red Cross psycho-social programme is intended to limit the impact of the psychological trauma suffered by many children during the war. The programme is conducted by teachers who have been trained in psycho-social support, and comprises a range of activities designed to help some 2,300 children develop coping mechanisms. It is being implemented in 11 schools in Mitrovica, Vushtrri/Vucitrn and Skenderaj/Srbica.

  •  The International Federation  

Over 2,500 persons benefit on a monthly basis from the International Federation's psycho-social programme which aims to help psychologically vulnerable persons to overcome their trauma and thus improve their daily lives. Paraprofessional counselling, therapeutic activities, training in job skills, cultural and sporting activities are offered through five psycho-social centres and five mobile teams all over Kosovo. Under an agreement with the Department of Health and Social Welfare, a project to provide mental stimulation activities for 50abandoned babies is to start in Pristina and later to be extended to Prizren and Peja/Pec.


  •  Support for water boards  

Twenty-four water boards were provided with spare parts and pumps, and training continued to be given by the leak detection team.

  •  Institute of Public Health  

The first phase in the rehabilitation of the Institute of Public Health laboratories was completed and equipment (for gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography) was delivered. Two chemistry professors under contract to the ICRC give regular training on standard measurements for water and food quality and trained staff in the use of new equipment such as an atomic absorber.


  •  Data gathering  

In accordance with a memorandum of understanding reached with the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC), the ICRC is the lead agency for collecting information on landmine casualties.

  •  "Safer villages" plan  

In February 2000 the ICRC launched a community-based programme in more than 500 villages contaminated by mines/UXO. Together with the communities concerned, the ICRC discusses how this threat affects their daily lives and how they can avoid risky behaviour. Monthly follow-up is ensured through meetings with village representatives.

In central, northern and southern regions, the ICRC took over community-based programmes in some 70 additional villages formerly covered by NGOs which had phased out their involvement. This increased activity was carried out in cooperation with Kosovo Red Cross branches, which provided volunteers now being trained by ICRC mine-awareness officers. Whenever a community, through its representative, reports a mine/UXO threat, the information is passed on to the coordination body for the demining agencies for checking, marking or clearance as required.

  •  Support for mine-awareness programmes for children  

A children’s brochure on mines/UXO has been produced in Albanian and Serbian. Bosniac and Turkish versions will be completed in April, together with a video of the " Little Red Riding Hood " story adapted to alert children to the danger of mines. These will be used as a supplement to t he mine-awareness programme run in schools through the Department of Education and UNICEF.


  •  Institutional development  

During the first quarter of the year, the International Federation called for a further meeting of the strategic planning group of the Kosovo Red Cross in order to consolidate the organization's objectives and budget for 2001. An initial fund-raising seminar was held for branch secretaries to show them how to develop and strengthen the financial base of a branch. In addition, two self-assessment workshops took place for six Kosovo Red Cross branches and the Metohija branch.

  •  Young people  

Preparations to relaunch the Youth programme for local Red Cross organizations were made with the support of the International Federation. Activities are due to begin in April with the start of the first Youth Leadership training course.

  •  Health  

Hygiene, children’s diseases, family planning, postnatal care and baby feeding were some of the topics tackled in the primary health-care education programme the Swiss Red Cross is conducting in cooperation with the Kosovo Red Cross in Malisheve/Malisevo, Istog/Istok, Obiliq/Obilic, Vushtrri/Vucitrn, Shtimje/Stimlje and Prizren municipalities. Over 2,500 women in 38 villages were involved in the project, which will gradually be extended to all municipalities in Kosovo.

Following the establishment of the   Ko sovo Red Cross Psychological and Social Welfare Department, the International Federation started training volunteers in 13 branches.

  •  First aid  

The American Red Cross and the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society are involved in a project which aims to develop the local Red Cross organizations'first-aid network in all municipalities. The project, which was approved in early February, began with the recruitment and training of instructors; it includes financial and technical support and the provision of equipment and first-aid and teaching supplies. The first-aid capacity will be essential for the establishment of a disaster-preparedness plan, and first-aiders have been taking part in ongoing relief operations for the displaced and refugees. Proficiency in first aid is a valuable asset for all kinds of organizations and private companies, and giving courses commercially will help the municipal branches develop financial autonomy.

  •  Training for emergency response  

With the involvement of the local Red Cross branches in the assistance programme for displaced persons and refugees, and in order to increase the efficiency of the response to future emergencies, volunteers received training in six municipalities. The training concentrated on assessment of needs, registration of beneficiaries, management of distributions, and reporting. Sessions also began to consolidate the network for collection of information on missing persons.

Ref. LG 2001-024-ENG