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ICRC, Red Cross and Red Crescent activities in Kosovo

30-06-2001 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. National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies from 12 countries are involved, along with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Movement activities are co-ordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  





 Release of the Gjakova group  

On the 25th of April, the ICRC accompanied 143 released detainees back to their home in Gjakova/Djakovica under the protection of the Red Cross emblem.

The Gjakova group, 143 men from 19 to 54 years old, were arrested during the Kosovo conflict in the town of Gjakova and sentenced collectively. In Kosovo the group had become a political symbol. The Serbian Supreme Court reviewed their trial and decided their release.

The ICRC collected them from several detention places in Serbia and transported them in 4 buses to Kosovo. Thousands of people were gathered along the 100 km between the boundary in Kosovo and the town of Gjakova, cheering and waving their hands to celebrate the return of the group.

In Gjakova a large meeting place was arranged where the families and thousands of relatives gathered to wait for them and were kept informed by the ICRC staff and by the radios of the progress of the convoy.

Around 5.30 p.m., when finally the buses entered the compound, the crowd was overwhelmed by joy. The family members rushed to the buses and could finally hold their f athers, sons, husbands in their arms. Tears and laughter mixed on the faces of all, relatives friends and ICRC staff.

As one ICRC field officer from Gjakova office explained : " Here in Kosovo we have been following the families for 2 years bringing them Red Cross messages and organising family visits, while the ICRC in Serbia was visiting the detainees since the end of the conflict, and finally we see them reunited, it's a beautiful moment for all of us " .

Since the end of the conflict 1780 Albanian detainees have been released by the authorities in Serbia. The ICRC transported most of them   back to Kosovo and continues to visit 254 detainees remaining in prison in Serbia.



 Publication of the second edition of the book of missing  

As part of the ongoing process to establish the fate of people who went missing during the events in Kosovo, the ICRC launched on the 10th of April the second edition of the Book of Missing with the updated list of names it has received from the families from all communities.

The 200-page document, lists 3'525 names both in chronological order of disappearance and alphabetically. It covers the period between January 1998 and March 2001.

The book will be widely available in Kosovo, Serbia proper, in the region and abroad.

The purpose of the Book is to continue to gather information about missing persons, from members of the public, the authorities as well as those who took part in hostilities. It is also a reminder that thousands of families are still in anguish, waiting for news.



 Refugees and displaced persons from fyROM and Presevo valley  

At the beginning of May, the crisis in fyROM has led hundreds of civilians to cross the border between Macedonia and Kosovo and to seek refuge from the resumption of hostilities there.

The ICRC with the support of the Red Cross of Kosova ( RCK ) and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been widely involved in registering the refugees or displaced persons, finding host families to accommodate them, and providing assistance to those in need.

On the boundary with Serbia, the ICRC is in charge of responding to the influx of displaced families and has set up preregistration points, run by RCK activists 24 hours a day, to welcome families coming from the GSZ into Kosovo and allow them to be eligible for food and non food assistance during their stay in Kosovo. They can also be directed to host families if they do not have their own accommodation.

With the support of the RCK , the ICRC provides individual food parcels to all persons registered, and also distributes hot meals to persons accommodated in the Gjilan/Gnjilane dormitory.

By 30 May, more than 8'000 persons had been pre-registered and 6'000 food rations had been distributed. 

On the Macedonian border, UNHCR is in charge of co-ordinating the humanitarian response. The RCK is helping to register and provide immediate assistance to the refugees crossing the border. The psycho social team of the International Federation is giving support, comforting those who are stressed or scared and providing advice for special needs. The RCK provides a list of host families in case they don't have a friend or relative to go to.





 Missing issue  

The events in Kosovo have left thousands of families of all communities without news of their relatives. Members of all communities are caught between hope and despair, uncertain about the fate of their loved ones.

The ICRC has been collecting information on missing persons in Kosovo since 1998, and is doing its utmost to clarify the fate of persons through active tracing on the field, visits to places of detention, submission of cases to the authorities, and providing support to the exhumation and identification process.

The fate of hundreds of persons have been clarified through this work. However, 2 years after the end of the conflict the fate of more than 3500 persons is still not solved.

 "As time goes by the anguish of the families only deepens. They are unable to plan their lives as long as they do not know if their relatives are dead or alive", says Elizabeth TWINCH, Head of ICRC Mission in Kosovo, "This tragedy that affects thousands of families in Kosovo is a lasting consequence of the conflict which must not be forgotten."  

  •  Data collecting  

The ICRC continues collecting information on the Missing Persons through its contacts with the families, communities, visits to hospitals and morgue, co-operation with the organisations in charge of the exhumation and identification process.

The Book of the Missing is another tool to collect further information.

  •  Identification  

In February 2001, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published the " 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 has been maintaining a continuous contact with the families of the Missing Persons since the registration of their tracing requests, is in charge of making the book available to the families, both through its offices and visits to isolated communities. The book is also on view at ICRC offices in Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

  •  Exhumation  

The ICRC chairs a working group made up of the OSCE, ICTY, UNMIK civil police Missing Person Unit, UNMIK department of Public Exhumation and the Forensic Institute of Pristina. The objective is to set up a plan of action, budget and a strategy for the management of future exhumations required for ov er 30 identified burial sites.

  •  Support to family associations  

Contacts have been strengthened with the few existing family associations in order to support them in their advocacy and lobbying. To assist this they have been provided with some basic office equipment.

  •  The obligation of the authorities to provide information  

Authorities in Kosovo and Belgrade have been regularly approached in order to raise their awareness about the Missing issue and to remind them of their responsibility to provide answers to the families. Within the Joint Implementation Commission of Kumanovo agreement, the ICRC participates in the subcommission on Missing Persons where authorities of both sides meets on a weekly basis to share information on cases.



 Isolated communities  

The ICRC field teams regularly visit communities living in isolation in order to monitor their security situation and to assess eventual emergency humanitarian needs.

Whenever deemed necessary and requested by the affected population, cases are referred to the relevant authorities. Close contact is maintained with Minority Officers at local and regional level.

In addition to the follow-up of individual medical cases, concerns are raised with the Minority Officer of the Department of Health and Social Welfare about access to health facilities, drug supplies and the transfer of patients to health facilities.



 Visiting detainees  

After most detainees whose cases fall under the Serbian and Republican amnesty acts were released during the month of March, 182 detainees were released by the Serbian authorities during the months of April and May and transported back to Kosovo under the protection of the red cross emblem.

The ICRC presently visits some 250 detainees in 24 places of detention in Serbia proper.

In Kosovo, the ICRC visits detainees in 9 places of detention under UNMIK or KFOR responsibility including the persons who were arrested in relation with the situation in the Ground Safety Zone and FYROM.

The ICRC visits in detention places aim at regularly assessing the conditions of detention and requesting the necessary improvements from the detaining authorities. Private talks are held with the detainees, who are registered and their situation followed up until they are released. Information collected during the visits are confidential.

The ICRC as well facilitates the contact between the detainees and their families with the exchange of Red Cross Messages and the organisation of family visits.






  •  Sunflower production  

The ICRC has provided sunflower seeds and fertilisers for 600 farmers who will sell their sun flower seed harvest to the Ferizaj/Urosevac Oil Factory in September 2001.

  •  Tractor repair  

Spanish Red Cross supports a tractor repair workshop in Malisheva/Malisevo.

Norwegian Red Cross runs a tractor repair workshop in Rahovec/Orahovac and in Gllogovc/Glogovac.

  •  Support to Ulpiana Agricultural High School  

The ICRC has provided agricultural input for demonstration plots for improved agricultural practices.



 Soup kitchens  

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) the soup kitchen programmes have assisted over 15'000 vulnerable persons every day since November 1999.

As the social welfare system has been restructured and is now functional, the Red Cross Movement has slowly reduced the number of beneficiaries and finally closed down the soup kitchens at the beginning of May 2001.




  •  Secondary health support  

The ICRC is renovating the hospital in Mitrovica North.

The Finnish Red Cross is rehabilitating the operating theatres, gynaecological service and TB ward in Gjilan/Gnjilane hospital. Training of medical staff and assistance to improve the logistics and pharmacy is ongoing. 

The Italian Red Cross is rehabilitating 9 outpatients clinics in Peja/Pec hospital.

The Swiss Red Cross has concluded the repair of the roof in Gjakova/Djakovica hospital.

The Spanish Red Cross is supporting the development of an emergency medical transport system in Malisheva/ Malisevo, Rahovec/Orahovac, Suharek/Suva Reka and Prizren.

  •  Primary health support  

The Japanese Red Cross has completed the construction of Decan/e Health House in May.

The French Red Cross is constructing a 26-bed facility in Llapje Sele/Lapje Selo.

The Belgium Red Cross units visits remote villages and isolated communities in Zhupa Valley and Prizren town.

The Turkish Red Crescent mobile clinic provides health care in the Prizren and Dragash/s areas.

The Swiss Red Cross has completed the rehabilitation of Junik ambulanta.

  •  Emergency training  

In Mitrovica North hospital and Mitrovica South Health House, the ICRC is training staff in first aid and evacuation of patients to health facilities in emergency situations.

  •  Family Health Education  

The Swiss Red Cross in co-operation with the Red Cross of Kosova is running a primary health care education programme for over 2'500 women in 38 villages. The training includes hygiene, children's diseases, family planning, postnatal care and baby feeding.

  •  Mental Health  

The Norwegian Red Cross continues the training of staff at Shtime/Stimjle Mental Institute. A rehabilitation unit has been set up to facilitate the return of patients in their community.

The International Federation psycho-social programme benefits to 2'500 persons every month through the support to five psycho-social centres and runs five mobile teams. 

The Danish Red Cross implements a programme through school teachers in 11 schools in Mitrovica, Vushtrri/Vucitrn and Skenderaj/Srbica or over 2'300 children.





  •  Houses  

The Danish Red Cross is reconstructing 60 houses in 3 villages in Mitrovica municipality. The beneficiaries were provided with seeds and fertilisers by the ICRC.

The Swiss Red Cross to conclude in June the reconstruction of 79 houses in Peja/Pec region.

  •  Schools  

The Egyptian Red Crescent is constructing a Nursery School for 200 children in Pristina.



 Water and sanitation  

  •  Support to water boards  

ICRC continues providing 24 water boards with material (spare-parts, pumps) and training by the leak detection team is ongoing.

The American Red Cross assists the rehabilitation of the water distribution system in Gjilan/Gnjilane and provides equipment to rural villages in Viti/na municipality.

The German Red Cross is repairing the water distribution system in Shtime/Stimjle.

  •  Institute of Public Health  

The first phase rehabilitation of the Institute of Public Health laboratories has been completed and equipment delivered (gas chromatograph and High Performance Liquid Chomatograph). Two chemistry professors contracted by the ICRC ensure regular training on usual measurements for water and food quality and train the staff on new equipment's such as atomic absorber.


 Mine awareness  

  •  Safer village plan  

The ICRC has developed since February 2 000 a community-based programme in villages affected by mine/UXO threat, defining together with the community how this has affected their daily lives and how they can avoid risk behaviour. Over the past three months the ICRC has trained 110 Red Cross of Kosova volunteers in villages in the Centre, North and South regions as mine awareness NGO's have ended their programme this year. The volunteers report on mine/UXO threat during their monthly meeting and information is passed to the co-ordination body for the demining agencies for checking, marking or clearance according to the need.

  •  Awareness for displaced population  

Following the population movements from FYROM, Presevo Valley and the Ground Safety Zone, the ICRC mine awareness teams have been present at the crossing points and have reinforced their activities in the Southern and Eastern regions. Distribution of leaflets and posters, information sessions for the displaced population in transit centres and in the villages have been organised in order to prevent incidents in relation with mines and unexploded ordnance's.

  •  Support to mine awareness programmes for children  

The children brochure in Albanian and Serbian, Bosniac and Turkish and the video of the adapted story " Little Red Riding Hood " were produced and are being distributed as a support to the mine-awareness programme developed through the Department of Education and UNICEF.

  •  Data gathering  

In accordance with the memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Mine Action Co-ordination Centre (UNMACC), the ICRC continues collecting information on casualties.


 Building capacity of local Red Cross  

  •  Institutional Development  

The International Federation has been providing training in strategic planning for the Red Cross of Kosova . A first fund-raising seminar was held with the Red Cross of Kosova branch secretaries in order to develop and strengthen a branch financial base. Besides this, two self-assessment workshops took place for six Red Cross of Kosovo and Metohija branches.

  •  Youth  

In order to relaunch the Youth programme for local Red Cross, the International Federation has organised the first Youth leadership training course and trained 28 Youth leaders.

  •  First aid  

The International Federation, the American Red Cross and the Saudi Red Crescent are involved in a project which aims at developing the local Red Cross organisations first aid network in all municipalities. The first aid capacity will be essential in building a disaster preparedness plan and first aiders have been participating in the current relief operations on behalf of the displaced and refugees. First Aid is as a valuable training for all kind of organisations and private companies, and by giving courses commercially it will enable the municipal branches to develop their financial autonomy.

  •  Training for emergency response  

With the involvement of the local Red Cross branches in the assistance programme to the displaced persons and for refugees, and in order to optimise the response to future emergencies, training of volunteers has taken place in fifteen municipalities. The training concentrates on the assessment of needs, the registration of beneficiaries, the management of distributions and reporting. Sessions have also started to consolidate the network for information collection on the Missing Persons. 


 Promoting humanitarian law  

The Red Cross Movement was born in 1863, to protect victims of war. The ICRC acts on the basis of a mandate it has received from all States signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The specificity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is drawn from its organic link to International Humanitarian Law and its Fundamental Principles which guide its actions. 

A good understanding of these humanitarian law can often make the difference between acceptance of our humanitarian role and mistrust -which could prevent us from reaching the victims. The strength of the RC Movement lies in its diversity, its history, and its innovative approach.

The ICRC participates in the initial training programme for the Kosovo Police Service and organises regular briefings for local authorities, local and international organisations, and UNMIK Police officers.

  •  Dissemination to Armed Forces  

It is the responsibility of all governments to ensure that the armed forces are properly trained in the Geneva Conventions. ICRC's role is to help them meet that obligation, and deploys qualified delegates around the world to do this.


In Kosovo (as in Bosnia) the ICRC is working to ensure international forces engaged in peace support operations know and understand the ICRC's mandate, its working principles and activities. The aim is to facilitate working relations in Kosovo and to establish a sound basis for other contexts where the ICRC might interact with the same forces. In Kosovo sessions are organised regularly in the various KFOR brigades.