INTOLERABLE CONDITIONS FOR KOSOVO REFUGEES ON ALBANIAN BORDER
Urgent Need for International Assistance
April 2, 1999
HUMAN RIGHT WATCH -- KOSOVO FLASH #15
(New York, April 2, 1999)--Human Rights Watch today called on NATO immediately to start airlifts of emergency supplies to the Kosovo/Albanian border.
Human Rights Watch researchers at the Qafe Morina crossing point, near Kukes, report that there are almost no emergency supplies and few international humanitarian aid workers in the area to assist thousands of exhausted refugees crossing the border every hour. Today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had only eight staff members in Kukes, six of whom had arrived within the last forty-eight hours. The International Committee of the Red Cross has only two international delegates in Kukes.
"This is a tragedy of major proportions, and one that the international community could easily solve," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "What is needed is an immediate airlift to the border area, and vehicles to transport supplies." Cartner urged that a proper reception point for refugees be set up, with large tents, a medical team, basic foodstuffs, and enough blankets to cover people from the cold.
The refugees include thousands of elderly people and very young children. Many of the refugees have been on the road for several days and have had no food or water. They have no warm clothes, food, medication, or shelter.
Most of the refugees leaving Kosovo are passing through Qafe Morina. According to UNHCR, some 150,000 refugees have crossed over into Kukes, and only 40-50,000 have been evacuated onward to Tirana and other points south. Over 30,000 refugees crossed over into Kukes today at the Qafe Morina crossing point, as well as another 10-15,000 people crossing at the Qafe Prushit point further north, near Krume.
The UNHCR estimates that some 100,000 refugees in the Kukes area are in urgent need, but it can provide supplies for only a small proportion of them.
The region's poor transportation infrastructure is complicating the humanitarian operation. The roads from Tirana to Kukes are mountainous and crammed with refugees. A functioning airstrip near Kukes would greatly facilitate the relief effort. But the airstrip in Kukes cannot be used for humanitarian purposes because NATO has not yet given its authorization. According to NATO regulations, all air traffic in the area must be authorized by NATO headquarters.
"The refugee crisis has gone on for too long for the world simply to let them languish on a cold mountaintop, especially after all the suffering they have endured," added Holly Cartner. "The exodus has been continuing for several days now, and the international community must act immediately to help these refugees."
For further information contact:
Fred Abrahams (1-212) 216-1270
Rachel Reilly (1-212) 216-1208
Holly Cartner (1-212) 216-1277