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Meeting Humanitarian Needs in Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Publisher Humanitarian Issues Working Group
Publication Date 16 November 1998
Citation / Document Symbol HIWG/98/8
Cite as Humanitarian Issues Working Group, Meeting Humanitarian Needs in Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 16 November 1998, HIWG/98/8, available at: [accessed 18 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.






20 November 1998


16 November 1998

Original: ENGLISH



1. Since the last meeting of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group (HIWG) on 26 June 1998, the most significant developments in the region of the former Yugoslavia, directly affecting the search for durable solutions for the problem of refugees and displaced persons, are the conflict in the Kosovo province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the search for a political solution.[1] FRY continues to host over half a million long-term refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The small-scale returns of refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia have been offset by arrivals in FRY of asylum-seekers from the Eastern Danube region of Croatia (see document HIWG/98/9). The present note assesses the humanitarian impact and describes both efforts and plans to meet needs in Kosovo province. 


2. In addition to the country's heavy burden of hosting over half a million refugees, fifty per cent of whom live in extremely precarious conditions, it is believed that the conflict in Kosovo has affected over half the municipalities in the province, with a total pre-conflict population estimated at over 1.4 million. Many were affected by displacement, being either displaced themselves or hosting displaced persons. Municipalities outside conflict areas also host displaced persons or have been indirectly affected by the conflict. Before the conclusion of the Holbrooke-Milosevic accord of 13 October 1998, UNHCR estimated that there were some 200,000 displaced persons within Kosovo, including some 10,000 living in makeshift shelter, in precarious conditions in areas of displacement, as well as over 120,000 people displaced outside the province:including 20,000 in Serbia, 42,000 in Montenegro, 20,000 in Albania, and some 38,000 in Western Europe (some 80 per cent of the total number of asylum-seekers from FRY). Asylum-seekers had also reached countries in the immediate region, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Hungary.

3. Since the conclusion of the accord and implementation of related agreements reached between the Yugoslav authorities and the international community for the deployment of an OSCE mission to verify compliance with Security Council resolution 1199 (1988), as well as the withdrawal from Kosovo of some of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and security forces, the number of persons displaced within the province has dropped sharply. Thousands of displaced began to return home in the last days of October with return movements intensifying in the early days of November. The significant withdrawal of the security presence and the increasing international political presence (Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission/OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission) provided sufficient reassurance for return movements, which were also influenced by the onset of winter weather. At the time of writing, it is estimated that some 175,000 people remain displaced within Kosovo -- whereas almost all of those living in makeshift shelter, many in the open under plastic, in areas of displacement had either returned to their villages or found shelter with family or friends. The latest available estimates of asylum-seekers from Kosovo in Western European and other countries are contained in document HIWG/98/7.

4. The conflict has disrupted normal life and trade. A largely rural population accustomed to living by subsistence farming has been impeded from tending fields and bringing in the harvest. Crops and stored surpluses were destroyed, farm animals left untended or killed, and farm equipment destroyed during or after the fighting.The already limited economic base was severely disrupted, and supplies to retail outlets interrupted. The growing problem of landmines and boody-traps is a matter of grave concern. Furthermore, the urgent restoration of electicity, water supplies and health services is needed.

5. Phase One of a United Nations/NGO shelter needs survey was carried out in 17 conflict-affected municipalities throughout Kosovo in early November. It encompassed 240 of the estimated 350 villages located in the affected area. The survey did not look at larger towns. These and the remainder of the villages will be assessed in phase two of the survey. Of the 240 villages surveyed, 90 were found to be undamaged by the conflict, while the remaining 150 had sustained varying degrees of damage. A total of 24,730 houses were surveyed. Of these, some 10,325 were deemed to be habitable immediately, having sustained little or no damage. Some 7,330 houses were deemed to be destroyed beyond repair.Another some 3,200 were found to be heavily damaged and to require major repair to be made habitable. Some 3,875 houses have been damaged but can be rendered habitable for the winter with emergency repair. These figures should be seen as indicative only. A full understanding of their implications will only be available with the completion of phase two and the analysis of the combined results which is planned to be completed in December.

6. The survey also indicated that the total population of the 240 villages prior to the conflict was some 340,000. In early November, some 172,000 of the original inhabitants were still there, plus some 30,600 displaced from other areas. The remaining original inhabitants and the displaced were scattered throughout the 240 villages, both those affected by damage as well as those which remain intact. It was noted that displacement has affected even undamaged villages, which saw the departure of some residents or which host those displaced from other areas.


7. UNHCR believes that the substantial return movements combined with improved access owing to the cease-fire should make it possible to provide adequately for humanitarian needs throughout the winter. Security is likely to remain fragile, however, until progress towards a political resolution of the causes of the conflict is perceived by all parties to be irreversible. Security will, in turn, continue to condition the ability of the humanitarian community to meet needs in Kosovo. For the humanitarian agencies, meeting urgent shelter needs is an important immediate objective. As described in the revised United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance related to the Crisis in Kosovo covering 1 June to 31 December 1998 (August 1998), shelter-related activities are designed to enable the affected populations in Kosovo to carry out emergency repairs needed to make portions of dwellings habitable through the winter. More substantial repairs were not contemplated in the appeal, since it was concluded that these could only be carried out once peace had been restored. The Government has made available some supplies of building materials.

8. Humanitarian requirements for FRY in 1999, including those in Kosovo province, will be incorporated in the 1999 United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance in the entire region, which is scheduled to be issued in early December 1998. The 1999 appeal will focus on the winter and spring of 1999, with a significant revision foreseen in the spring. The appeal will not address economic and social reconstruction/recovery assistance in Kosovo, but will seek to meet the immediate needs of individuals directly related to the conflict and its aftermath. As the peace process advances, it will be necessary for the international community to make timely arrangements to meet the wider recovery needs. Depending on developments, the links between humanitarian needs and wider recovery needs will be reflected, as necessary, in the spring revision of the 1999 appeal.

9. A number of humanitarian priorities within Kosovo have been identified, many of which have been included in the "Plan of Action for the Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Kosovo" presented by the Austrian Presidency to the European Union General Affairs Council meeting held in Luxembourg on 26 October 1998. These include:

·         Return in safety and dignity of displaced persons to their homes, or to host families where their homes are too severely damaged.

·         Provision of the necessary relief assistance to all the affected population (food, blankets, mattresses, stoves).

·         The immediate winterisation of damaged dwellings -- to a minimum of one weatherproof room which can be heated.

·         Support for emergency house repairs.

·         Close cooperation with the Serbian authorities to ensure delivery of promised material assistance.

·         The restoration of essential services.

·         The restocking/repair of health clinics.

·         Support for the reactivation of education and the extension of winterisation assistance to damaged schools.

·         Support for a seeds programme for spring planting.

10. Owing to the recent positive developments on the ground, UNHCR and its partners have been able to step up the delivery of relief supplies, doubling the number of convoys from three times per week to six, reaching some 90,000 people weekly. UNHCR staff in Kosovo now number 67 and three satellite offices -- in Mitrovica, Pec and Prizren -- are fully operational, in addition to UNHCR's field office in Pristina.

11. Shelter-related assistance has also intensified with the delivery of some 3,000 basic emergency shelter kits.[2]The distribution of stoves is intended to ensure the availability of heating in hastily repaired houses. Support to host families to enable them to continue to provide shelter to the displaced will be maintained.

12. The generous response of the donor community to UNHCR's component of the August 1998 United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance related to the Crisis in Kosovo will ensure the capacity to provide essential emergency assistance -- both in Kosovo and neighbouring areas -- until the end of this year. The needs of other agencies participating in the appeal, however, have not been fully met, affecting their ability to implement planned activities. UNHCR and its partners will continue to work closely with the FRY authorities and local organizations to ensure that humanitarian needs are met.

13. Recognizing the importance of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (OSCE-KVM), UNHCR rapidly established close cooperation with the mission, particularly those charged with its planning. UNHCR has already deployed two senior staff members to liaise with OSCE-KVM and plans to assign additional staff for this purpose. UNHCR has also agreed to participate in the humanitarian component of induction training of newly deployed verifiers and has, for this purpose, prepared training materials on its mandate and activities in Kosovo. Additional areas of cooperation will emerge, as OSCE-KVM deployment progresses. Of particular interest to UNHCR is OSCE-KVM support in a number of areas:providing security-related information of relevance for the safety of humanitarian staff and convoys; involvement in identifying and addressing mine contamination in Kosovo, especially through mine-awareness activities, mine marking and, eventually, mine clearance; international presence and verification activities, combined with reporting on the status of returnee villages and areas; preventive deployment in areas where tension is running high and where international deployment might ease such tension and instil confidence amongst all concerned; and ongoing assessments of shelter- and infrastructure-repair needs.


14. Recent developments in Kosovo have raised hopes for avoiding further displacement and the consequent human suffering, but the peace remains fragile. Only an unequivocal commitment to peace by all parties to the conflict and an early negotiated political settlement, will permit a full resolution of the humanitarian emergency. The prompt deployment of the full complement of OSCE-KVM is also essential. The sustainability of recent return movements, and the prospects for similar return movements from abroad will hinge upon respect of the cease-fire and confidence that it is safe both to return and remain home. Without this, there is a serious risk of fresh displacement. Equally important are measures to ensure the security of all those affected by the conflict, including ethnic Serbs residing in areas from which Yugoslav security forces have withdrawn. Particularly vulnerable as well are ethnic Serb refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia scattered across Kosovo.

[1] For the latest developments, see the report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on implementation of Security Council resolutions 1160 and 1199, issued as document S/1998/1068. 

[2] Including 40 m2 of plastic, nails, 1 hammer and 10 m of wood.

* subsequently released for publication.

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