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Update on ICRC activities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

30-04-2001 Operational Update

 The ICRC has been present in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without interruption since 1991. During the NATO campaign, it remained in the country and worked together with the Yugoslav Red Cross to alleviate the suffering of the population affected by military operations. Since then, the Red Cross has set up wide-ranging assistance programmes, reaching out to hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries.  


 Because the ICRC is working in both Kosovo and elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it is able to bring aid to people detained in connection with the conflict in Kosovo and their families, and to families with missing relatives.  



 1. Social context  

The political changes in the region and the international response to those changes have raised hopes for an improvement in the situation of various vulnerable groups.

In the short term, however, the needs of destitute people, the displaced, health facilities and water authorities will still have to be met. The Red Cross will therefore maintain its full range of assistance programmes in the months to come. At the same time, initiatives are being taken to encourage local structures to assume responsibility for helping vulnerable members of the population in their areas. In the tense situation affecting the southern Serbian municipalities of Medvedja, Bujanovac and Presevo, the ICRC is carrying out its traditional protection and assistance activities.

The ICRC will also continue its detention-related work, and will maintain its support for families suffering the anxiety of not knowing what has happened to missing relatives. In that regard, it stands ready to contribute to any effort that might lead to progress on this painful issue which affects thousands of people in the country.

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 2. Developments concerning missing persons  


For almost three years now, the ICRC has been trying to help the families of people who went missing during the conflict in Kosovo to find out what happened to their loved ones. It has repeatedly approached the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina, urging them to take all possible steps to provide answers, has cooperated with other organizations involved in the issue, and has worked in the field to gather additional information.

 Book of missing persons  

One of the steps taken by the ICRC was to publish, in June 2000, the Book of Missing Persons in Kosovo , which contains 3,368 names collected from all communities between January 1998 and mid-May 2000. Since then, more families have approached the ICRC to report missing relatives, so its records now contain close to 3,600 files. A second, updated edition of the book was published on 10 April 2001.

 Photos of belongings  

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 now living in Serbia to view photos of clothing found on mortal remains exhumed in Kosovo. In cooperation with the Family Association of Missing Persons from Kosovo, the ICRC has provided transport for hundreds of people to Gracanica and Zvecan, where the photos are displayed, with the aim of obtaining positive identificati on of clothing belonging to their missing relatives.

 Former conflicts  

For almost 10 years now the ICRC has maintained close contacts with the families of the missing, facilitating whenever possible their dealings with the relevant authorities. When appropriate, it has recontacted families to ask whether they agreed to their names and addresses being given to the authorities involved in exhumation and identification work in Croatia.

It also works to make its own tracing services and those of the Yugoslav Red Cross better known, and regularly invites families to report missing relatives to the Red Cross.

The ICRC firmly believes that the families of missing persons are entitled to full support, and therefore assists their association not only in practical matters but also in making their voices heard.

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 3. Visits to detainees  


In situations 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 1,700 detainees have been released from prisons in Yugoslavia, and some 1,500 of them have been escorted home by ICRC teams. In early April 2001 the ICRC was still visiting just over 400 detainees – as compared with 2,037 registered in July 1999 – held in Serbia in connection with the conflicts in the region, and arranging transport for released detainees to return to their families. In Kosovo itself, the ICRC was visiting 111 people held in places of detention run by international bodies.

 Family visits  

In addition, the ICRC has been helping families who would otherwise not be able to travel for security or financial reasons to visit detained relatives in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By mid-February 2001, over 150 detainees in Serbia proper and four in Kosovo had received family visits thanks to ICRC assistance.

Family visits are also organized for people detained in connection with earlier conflicts in Croatia.

 Exchange of Red Cross messages  

The ICRC facilitates contacts between detainees and their families through the exchange of Red Cross messages. So far, over 32,000 messages have been collected from and delivered to places of detention.

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 4. 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 foodstuffs per person) for a large proportion of the 228,500-strong population of people displaced from Kosovo. These displaced people have also been given family hygiene parcels and other essential items as needed.


 New criteria  

In February 2001, more than half (140,000) of the displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia received such assistance, in accordance with the new criteria set up by the ICRC and the Yugoslav Red Cross. These criteria designate the following as eligible for food and hygiene items: (a) people living 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) the mentally and physically disabled/chronically ill.

These categories have recently been extended to include displaced families which previously did not qualify for any assistance whatsoever. Such families now receive a monthly food parcel if they have up to five members, while larger families receive two parcels a month.


 Food parcels  

Since January, more than 5,000 tonnes of food have been distributed. The content of the parcels has been adjusted to comply with the requests voiced by the beneficiaries: canned meat and fish have replaced some of the pasta and rice.

 Hygiene and baby parcels  

A notable change has also been introduced in the distribution of hygiene parcels, which are now no longer handed out to families but to individuals. As for baby parcels, some 15,000 infants up to two years of age are at present receiving this form of assistance. The members of both groups are entitled to one hygiene and/or baby parcel every three months.

 The plight of the displaced  

While the most vulnerable displaced people continue to receive material assistance, their main concern is still uncertainty as to their future. This lack of prospects, which places a considerable strain on their mental and physical well-being, needs to be addressed as a matter of urge ncy.

 Assistance for southern Serbia  

Assistance was also sent to the troubled southern Serbian regions of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac. Early this year, more than 100 tonnes of food were delivered to 70 villages in the buffer zone where the tense situation has kept some 25,000 people in almost complete isolation. In order to make the distribution of aid as efficient as possible, the ICRC has set up a temporary office – known as an " antenna " – in Bujanovac to coordinate work in the field. Early in April, a similar sub-office was opened in the town of Presevo.

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 5. Making the soup kitchens self-sustaining  



The soup-kitchen programme was set up by the ICRC and the Yugoslav Red Cross in July 1999 for the benefit of up to 100,000 vulnerable individuals among the resident population. It is implemented in partnership with the German, Danish, Italian and American Red Cross Societies.


 Hot meals  

Since 1999, over 30 million hot meals have been prepared in 140 kitchens and served from 348 distribution points. At present, more than 72,000 vulnerable people receive one meal per day. Bearing in mind that for many of these people it is their only real meal, over 60% of the kitchens are now cooking food seven days a week.

 Making soup kitchens self-sustaining  

The Red Cross has started to look into ways of making the soup kitchens self-sustaining. By launching small-scale income-generating and/or agricultural production projects, the quality and variety of the meals could be improved and the communities concerned could become involved in taking care of their vulnerable members.


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 6. Improving the water supply and quality  



Since the NATO air strikes, when the ICRC took steps to maintain access to drinking water for people cut off from their regular water supply, notably in Novi Sad, contin uous efforts have been made to keep the most vulnerable communities provided with safe water and to ensure regular quality control.


 Emergency assistance  

In the poorest areas of southern Serbia, disruption of the water supply is a constant risk for both the resident population and people displaced from Kosovo. In response to 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 for local water boards  

In recent months, chlorinators and other indispensable equipment have been delivered to water boards in Vladicin Han, Babusnica, Mladenovac, Knjazevac and Aleksandrovac with the aim of ensuring at least a minimum water supply. In Tutin, where 30% of the population was without a regular supply, the ICRC and the local water board have completed work on the primary network, giving the entire population of this remote little town in Sandzak access to safe water.

 Swedish Red Cross programme 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 monitor the quality of drinking water. An initial survey to assess the institutes'needs led to the ordering of the laboratory equipment, instruments, reagents and glassware required for water testing.

All the materials ordered have now been distributed to the institutes. However, not all the sophisticated equipment has been installed and it may still take some time until it is all in place and ready for use. Since most of it is new to the laboratory staff which will be using it, the ICRC and the Swedish Red Cross have started organizing training sessions.


 Quality control seminar in Novi Sad  

To that end, the ICRC and the Swedish Red Cross organized a 13-day seminar on water quality control in Novi Sad in March 2001. The seminar covered the broader aspects of water quality control procedures and also dealt with the effects of environmental pollution on the general health of the population. Around 30 eminent Yugoslav experts in this sphere presented the latest findings from the world's most highly developed countries.

These presentations focusing on theory are to be followed by practical training workshops, giving laboratory technicians an opportunity to become acquainted at first hand with the equipment and techniques they will be using in their work.

 Working for a healthier environment  

In view of the variety of water/environmental pollution problems in different parts of the country (cyanide spill in the Danube, bombing of chemical facilities in Pancevo and Kragujevac, etc.), the setting-up of micro-projects is being envisaged to investigate the specific impact of these events on the quality of water in the areas concerned.


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 7. Supporting health reforms  



Since the beginning of 2000, the ICRC has been providing 35 hospitals in Serbia and five in Montenegro with surgical supplies. The hospital authorities have expressed great appreciation for the appropriate and timely nature of this form of assistance. Furthermore, for almost two years now the ICRC has been supplying 46 basic drugs for chronic diseases to 12 Red Cross pharmacies across Serbia on a monthly basis. Beneficiaries of the programme are refugees, displaced people and vulnerable members of society.


 Norwegian Red Cross reconstruction project in Sandzak  

In February, the Norwegian Red Cross completed the third and final phase of the reconstruction work, valued at almost half a million DEM, that it has been carrying out on the Muscular Dystrophy Centre in Novi Pazar, which was damaged by NATO bombs in spring 1999. The hospital's roof, a treatment pool and a children's ward were rebuilt from scratch, while heating and plumbing installations were repaired and upgraded. The rebuilt hospital, the only one of its kind in the country, was officially handed over at a modest but well-organized ceremony on 1 March this year.

The Norwegian Red Cross is the third National Society to help with the reconstruction of medical facilities in Serbia. Previously, the Finnish Red Cross rebuilt the Children's Hospital for Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, part of the Dragisa Misovic hospital in Belgrade, while the Swiss Red Cross carried out similar work on the health post in Baric, near the Yugoslav capital.


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 8. Involvement of participating National Societies  


 Projects under way  


  •  American Red Cross  . Soup-kitchen programme in Novi Sad recently taken over from the Canadian Red Cross (one distribution centre, 45 local Red Cross branches), providing 21.6% (15,603) of the total number of hot meals served daily by the Red Cross in Yugoslavia

  •  Danish Red Cross    - Soup-kitchen progr amme (two distribution centres in Kraljevo and Uzice, 25 local RC branches), providing 14% (10,062) of the total number of hot meals served daily by the Red Cross in Yugoslavia.

  •  German Red Cross    - Soup-kitchen programme (five distribution centres in Belgrade, Sabac, Nis, Zajecar and Vranje, 66 local RC branches), providing 46.5% (33,496) of the total number of hot meals served daily by the Red Cross in Yugoslavia.

  •  Italian Red Cross    - Soup-kitchen programme (two distribution centres in Kragujevac and Pozarevac, 24 local RC branches), providing 18% (13,000) of the total number of hot meals served daily by the Red Cross in Yugoslavia.

  •  Swedish Red Cross    - Support for seven public health institutes in Serbia and one in Montenegro in monitoring the quality of drinking water. Supplies them with laboratory equipment, instruments, glassware and chemicals necessary for water testing, and organizes training of laboratory staff.

 Projects completed  


  •  Belgian Red Cross    - Roma programme. As part of its 1999/2000 winter programme, provided the Roma with warm clothes, footwear, plastic sheeting, stoves and kitchen utensils and offered other forms of assistance as needed.

  •  Canadian Red Cross    - Until recently, ran a soup-kitchen programme (one distribution centre in Novi Sad, 45 local RC branches) - providing 18.8% (15,093) of the total number of hot meals served daily by the Red Cross in Yugoslavia, plus some 5,050 packed lunches a month.

  •  Finnish Red Cross - In 2000, completed reconstruction (worth some 1.5 million DEM) of the Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases Centre for Children at the Dragisa Misovic hospital in Belgrade, which sustained heavy damage during the 1999 NATO air campaign. The project also involved construction of an additional floor for the children's ward.

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

  •  Swiss Red Cross - In spring 2000, completed reconstruction of a health post in Baric, near Belgrade, which was destroyed during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. Under the project, valued at 330,000 DEM, the floor area was expanded to 400 square metres, that is, 60% more than the original area of the 30-year-old building.


 Yugoslavia : 310 national / 35 expatriate staff

 Operational Budget : Sfr 46.5 million ( assistance programmes budgeted only up to June 2001)

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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.