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Concern’s Initial Response to the Kosovo Crisis

Delivering WFP wheat to the CONCERN store in Gjimij

Connell Foley is part of the Concern Policy Development and Evaluation Directorate and went to Albania as part of Concern's initial team responding to the Kosovo crisis. He spent five weeks in the Kukes-Krume area as well as in Tirana assisting in the management of the early stages of the programme.

The Kosovo crisis and its deluge of refugees to neighbouring states have probably filled more television screens and newspaper column inches per day than any other political crisis of which refugees were a major part. Many would argue that it was disproportionate.

Among organisations and journals dedicated to nutrition and nutrition issues, the crisis received less attention than many others. The simple reason is that the Kosovo crisis, insofar as our interface with it in neighbouring states has been concerned, was not a "crisis" in terms of nutrition.
Concern Worldwide sent an assessment team to Albania on April 4 and it quickly became clear to the team that there were obvious differences between this and so many African and Asian emergencies of which we have had much experience.

People were not dying in Albania; neither of hunger nor from diseases.

While there were nutritional issues in Albania, they were not as critical or time-sensitive as in most refugee contexts. Concern did not call in its nutrition and health specialists because we were able to draw on the assessments carried out by other agencies such as MSF, ACF.

Concern based itself in Kukes in the North East of Albania and quickly found itself taking charge of food distributions to refugees in Hasi district north of Kukes and managing two refugee camps in Hasi district, one at the town of Krume and one in the commune of Fajza. Concern also undertook to supply food to the notoriously dangerous district of Bajram Curri where bandit gangs rule and previous robbery of agency equipment and supplies meant that no agencies currently worked there.

One of the most interesting aspects of the crisis was the generosity of the Albanian people to the refugees. They considered them as brethren since the refugees were Kosovar Albanians. There exist many kin relationships which cross the border but there was also a strong sense of ethnic solidarity which manifested itself in the welcoming of the Kosovar refugees into the homes of ordinary, mostly poor, Albanians. Until the NGOs, the Red Cross organisations and the World Food Programme (WFP) got their food supply chains running, it was the Albanian host families who fed the refugees, drawing on their own usually meagre resources to do so. One Albanian we knew in Ginaj commune hosted 43 Kosovars in his home!

However, it soon became clear that exploitation was quickly emerging and where refugees were not relatives, many Albanian hosting families soon began to charge significant rents and to evict Kosovars when they ran out of money to pay.

Division of Food Responsibilities between the Main Agencies:

In mid-April in Geneva, discussions were held between UNHCR, WFP, ICRC and IFRC regarding the division of labour in food distribution in Albania. It was decided there that WFP along with their implementing NGO partners would service the collective centres and the refugee camps while the Red Cross would look after host families and refugees staying with those host families.

On the ground, as always, realities hold sway. The Red Cross in Kukes felt that it did not have sufficient capacity for a large workload and asked Concern to continue to distribute to the refugees staying with host families in Hasi district. We have been doing so until the present.

Concern was one of the few organisations to distribute to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Albania. Serb shelling and incursions at villages such as Vlahen and Dobruna in Golaj commune (Hasi district) resulted in displacements in population. Concern and WFP agreed that these IDPs should be fed in the same way as the refugees and this ensured harmony between the local population and the refugees which was crucial.

Food Distributions and Registrations:

Kukes - Dutch-NATO helicopter delivers UNHCR supplies

Food distribution to refugees in the camps, other collective centres (mosques, schools, barracks, cultural centres) and with host families was complicated by a UNHCR directive that NGOs were not to issue any form of ID or registration cards. UNHCR protection officers were concerned that refugees would see any informal or ad-hoc registrations as formal ones and that it would confuse the organised registrations they were to carry out later. The situation was unusual in that very many of the refugees had had all forms of official identification taken from them by the Serbs before they were allowed to leave Kosovo. Issues of identification and registration were more critical or important than usual.
Concern used lists and simple paper ration cards to get around the problem and to ensure that distributions were fair, efficient and accountable.

Basic Rations:

In the early periods of the emergency, many refugees were existing on both bread and military rations. The military rations were readily available from NATO and could be accessed quickly. In the Krume camp which Concern managed, the refugees existed primarily on the military rations, since they had minimal cooking facilities. They were not being provided with much fresh produce but since the camp was on the edge of Krume town, refugees could be regularly seen walking back from the local market with bags of fruit and vegetables which were in reasonable supply.

The WFP basic rations comprised the usual standard package but in the early weeks of the crisis we had to be pragmatic and supply whatever was available since the supply chain from Durres port to the mountains of Kukes was slow in getting up to the capacity to match needs. The package was wheat flour, pulses, oil and sugar. Of course, there was a clear understanding that pork meat was inappropriate for a refugee population which was largely Muslim.

WFP brought in a supply of fortified or consolidated food (CSB) in late May and wanted NGOs to see how it might be used or distributed.

UNHCR Food Supplements:

In early May, the UNHCR introduced a proposed supplement to the existing food provision. They planned to give each refugee a monthly ration of:

Fresh veg./fruit (2 kg); Onions (2 kg); Potatoes (2 kg); Canned fish/meat (1 kg); Pasta (1 kg); Tomato sauce (0.5 kg); Jam (0.4 kg).

They wanted WFP's implementing partners to purchase the fresh produce locally and then to distribute it. This resulted in a big discussion over the impact on local markets, the fact that this was never done in Africa (so why in Albania?), local availability, perishability of fresh produce and the like. Nature of fresh produce would obviously entail at least a weekly distribution.

Impromptu trailer park in the centre of Kukes

In the end, for the first proposal period (8 May until 30 June) we agreed to provide 2 kg of fruit and vegetables, 2 kg of onions and 2 kg of potatoes per person per month. For the second proposal period (1 July to 30 Sept.), this was revised to 1 kg of each per person per month.

Move to Kosovo:

Concern sent a team into Kosovo itself on June 21 and this team will assess needs with a view towards providing livelihood support in a specific area for a limited period of time, that is until refugees are settled and livelihoods are once more secure.

The 78-day NATO air campaign ended on June 9th. More than half of the 800,000 refugees have returned as of 28th June. In addition to refugees, there are estimated to be as many as 500,000 internally displaced emerging from hiding that are returning home also.

Humanitarian aid responsibilities are roughly as follows: UNHCR for humanitarian relief - EU for reconstruction - the OSCE for human rights/protection and institution building.

Kosovo has been devastated. Shelter, health, demining and food requirements are clear priorities. Initial reports suggest that 40-50,000 residential homes are severely damaged and uninhabitable. Houses are being assessed for damage. Most agencies are looking at medium term repairs to get the families through the winter - insulating a room - pitching temporary roofing on partly damaged houses, providing heaters - repairing what we can for now. Full scale rehabilitation and reconstruction will probably not get under way until after the winter.

Much of the livestock, cattle, horses, pigs were killed, the corpses now rotting on the side of the road or in fields. Many wells have been polluted or deliberately poisoned. Agricultural crop planting and harvesting have been severely disrupted. Kosovo's 1998-9 wheat crop, for example, normally on the order of 300,000 tons was not planted. Very little domestically produced supplies or produce are available in the markets. Emergency food aid may be necessary for as many as 1.5 million people for one year or longer.

Concern has based itself in the Pec area of western Kosovo and is targeting extremely vulnerable individuals. Our assessment recommended that we provide for temporary shelter, water, sanitation and food needs for a 12 month period.

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Reference this page

Connell Foley (1999). Concern’s Initial Response to the Kosovo Crisis. Field Exchange 7, July 1999. p13. www.ennonline.net/fex/7/concern