NEW YORK, 14 April (Office of the Special Representative) — At the conclusion of a four-day mission to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania (10-13 April), Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, today addressed a three- pronged appeal to the international community. He called on the international community to adopt concerted measures to meet the special needs of Kosovo refugee children — an Agenda for Action for the Children of Kosovo. Secondly, he urged them to take immediate action to address the particularly unacceptable conditions for some 40,000 refugees in the northern Albanian town of Kukes. Thirdly, he appealed for increased assistance for the host countries of Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Special Representative, who serves as an international advocate for children affected by armed conflict by promoting their rights, protection and welfare, visited the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to assess first-hand the impact of the Kosovo crisis on children.

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mr. Otunnu visited several refugee centres in the vicinity of Skopje, including a transit camp in Brazda accommodating some 22,000 refugees, and Blace, the notorious “no man’s land” on the border with Kosovo. He also visited host families in the town of Tetovo. While in Skopje he held discussions with Vice-Prime Minister Bedredin Ibrahimi, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Commander General Michael Jackson, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Envoy Nicholas Morris, and High Commissioner for Human Rights Representative Michel Moussali. In Albania, Mr. Otunnu visited refugee sites in and around Tirana and travelled to the town of Kukes. He held discussions with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani; Professor Rexhep Qosja, a signatory to the Rambouillet agreement on behalf of the Kosovo Albanians; and United Nations representatives.

Children are the worst affected sector of the population in this crisis, Mr. Otunnu said. “They are the most traumatized by the violence, the most vulnerable to disease and malnutrition, and particularly affected byfamily separation and interruption of schooling. They constitute over 65 per cent of those expelled from Kosovo. “In view of what he has witnessed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, the Special Representative today called on the international community to adopt a special Agenda of Action for the Children of Kosovo, comprising the following measures.

— Ensuring basic survival needs. The following are immediate and basic needs of Kosovo refugee children:food, shelter, sanitary facilities, personal hygiene items, access to clean water and basic health services, especially immunization. These needs are

— Separation of families. More than half of the Kosovo refugee population is estimated to have one or more members of the family separated. Present capacities of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross

— Trauma. There are signs of severe trauma among the refugee children. It is necessary to mobilize and train quickly a significant number of trauma counselors, especially from within the refugee and host communities. This process has started. In addition

— Schooling for refugee children. There is need to ensure continuity of schooling for the refugee children; this is an issue which is often overlooked in the midst of an emergency response. This process must begin right away by recruiting and training te

support to host families. Ordinary families in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have responded to the refugee crisis with remarkable generosity and solidarity. Over half of the refugees in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania live with host families. this is An overwhelming burden for families who are already facing serious economic pressures. the Present situation cannot be sustained without major external assistance. the host families require basic provisions such as food, personal hygiene items, medical services, and clothing.

Voice of Children. Television and radio programmes devoted entirely to the needs of refugee children, focusing on entertainment, learning, peace education and serving as a source of basic information are necessary.

Relocation to third countries. there are ongoing efforts to relocate some of the refugees from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to third countries. this must be conducted on An entirely voluntary basis, and while preserving family unity.

recruitment and participation of children in hostilities. Until now, there is little evidence of the recruitment and participation of children in the conflict in Kosovo. However, there is need for active, preventive vigilance in order to Ensure that refugee camps and host families do not become recruiting centres for armed groups.

sexual exploitation of young women. there are disturbing reports that young refugee women are increasingly being lured into international trafficking for prostitution. increased protection measures, including Systematic registration and improved educational and economic opportunities for girls, would reduce their vulnerability to this exploitation.

— Children remaining in Kosovo. Mr. Otunnu said:”I am deeply preoccupied by the situation of children who have remained in Kosovo. We do not know their fate. The international community must insist on access to this population, which remains isolated fro

This Agenda for Action for the Children of Kosovo extends beyond the emergency of today. Children expelled from Kosovo clearly have needs that will extend beyond the present emergency phase. Such needs include continuous schooling, psycho-social assessment and rehabilitation. Above all, there is need to anticipate the challenges of resettlement in Kosovo once the conditions for return are secured. To translate this Agenda into realities that can make a difference to the lives of Kosovo refugee children will require long-term commitment, adequate planning and resources, and concerted action on the part of key donor governments, United Nations agencies and major international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The second component of Mr. Otunnu’s appeal concerns the intolerable conditions he witnessed in the town of Kukes.

— Situation in Kukes. The Special Representative drew particular attention to the appalling situation he witnessed in and around the town of Kukes in northern Albania. This town of 20,000 people became the principal entry point for the 300,000 refugees w

In conclusion, Mr. Otunnu appealed for increased assistance for the host countries of Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Assistance for the host countries. Both Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have had to assume an enormous burden on behalf of the international community. The Kosovo refugees now constitute some 10 per cent of the population in Albania and over 5 per cent of the population in the former Yugoslav Republic. The situation is especially acute in Albania, the poorest country in Europe, in which the annual per capita income is $750 and the level of unemployment is at 24 per cent. Moreover, Albania is still recovering from the civil upheavals of 1997. It will be impossible for these two countries to carry this burden for long without the strong and continued support of the international community.

For further information, contact Victoria Graham, tel. (212) 963-5508, e-mail: graham@un. org, or Salman Shaikh, tel. (212) 963-6194, e-mail: shaikhs@un. org. Main number (212) 963 3178.