Visit to Kosovo – April 1999

The Special Representative visited the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania from 10 to 13 April 1999 to assess first-hand the impact of the Kosovo crisis on children.

The Special Representative held discussions Government officials, leadership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), representatives of the Red Cross, UNHCR, UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNDP.

The Special Representative undertook several field visits in both Macedonia and Albania, and concluded that Children were the worst-affected sector of the population in the Kosovo refugee crisis. They were the most traumatized by the violence and had been particularly affected by family separation and interruption of schooling. Children constituted over 65 per cent of those expelled from Kosovo.

At the conclusion of his mission, the Special Representative put forward an agenda for action for the children of Kosovo, comprising the following measures:

  • Ensuring basic survival needs. Basic survival needs included food, shelter, sanitary facilities, access to clean water and basic health services, especially immunization. These needs were especially acute in Albania; the situation of the refugee population in the town of Kukes was particularly serious;
  • Reunification of separated families. More than half of the Kosovo refugee population was estimated to have one or more members of the family separated. The capacities of UNICEF and ICRC for tracing needed to be greatly increased and government authorities needed to facilitate the movement of refugees between different localities for purposes of reunification;
  • Trauma counselling. There were signs of severe trauma among the refugee children. It was necessary to mobilize and train quickly a significant number of trauma counsellors, especially from within the refugee and host communities. In addition, items such as toys, games and balls were among the most essential contributions to help restore a measure of normalcy to children’s lives;
  • Schooling for refugee children. There was need to ensure continuity of schooling for the refugee children, an issue that was often overlooked in the midst of an emergency response. He appealed to donors to provide funding to expand the capacities of local schools in host communities;
  • Support to host families. Ordinary families in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia responded to the refugee crisis with remarkable generosity and solidarity. Over half of the refugees in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania lived with host families. This was an overwhelming burden for families who were already facing serious economic pressures. The situation could not be sustained without major external assistance;
  • “Voice of Children’. The Special Representative highlighted the need for television and radio programmes devoted mainly to the needs of refugee children, with a focus on entertainment, learning and peace Education. He subsequently lobbied several international networks to participate in such a project;
    Relocation to third countries. There were ongoing efforts to relocate some of the refugees from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania to third countries. This had to be conducted on an entirely voluntary basis, while at the same time preserving family unity;
  • Preventing recruitment and participation of children in hostilities. There was little evidence of the recruitment and participation of children in the conflict in Kosovo. However, there was need for preventive vigilance in order to ensure that refugee camps and host families did not become recruiting centres for armed groups;
  • Protection of young women against sexual exploitation. There were disturbing reports that young refugee women were increasingly being lured into international trafficking for prostitution. Increased protection measures, including systematic registration and improved Educational and economic opportunities for girls, were needed to reduce their vulnerability to such exploitation;
  • Access to children remaining in Kosovo. The Special Representative was deeply preoccupied by the situation of children who had remained in Kosovo and whose fate was unknown. The international community needed to insist on access to that population, which remained isolated from the outside world.