Kosovo: Accounts of Deportation
December 10, 1999
Table of Contents
- Main Conclusions
Appendix I: Mass Expulsion from Kosovo: An Epidemiological Survey of Displaced Kosovars in Rozaje, Montenegro
Appendix II: Witness Accounts
In order to evaluate the situation and needs of the Kosovar population deported en masse to the neighboring countries of Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has taken two initiatives:
1 - an epidemiological survey was carried out mid-April 1999 among the displaced population arriving in Rozaje, Montenegro [Appendix I].
2 - the collection of deportee witness accounts was undertaken in Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro to complete the epidemiological data with a qualitative approach [Appendix II].
The epidemiological study was carried out on a population of 1,537 people (201 families), considered as representative of the 25,000 refugees who had arrived in Rozaje (Montenegro). It covers the events that occurred in more than 50 villages, as well as in Pec and Istok, between March 24 and April 15, 1999. The aim of this study was to investigate the demographic characteristics of this population, the impact of the exactions committed on them, and to evaluate their most urgent vital needs.
The witness accounts collected by Doctors Without Borders in Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro trace the experiences of 639 people in 43 cities or villages in Kosovo between March 25th and April 16th, 1999. People answered a standard questionnaire regarding the conditions surrounding their personal departure and the fate of members of their family. By comparing witness accounts and dates, the report attempts to reconstruct events that took place in certain Kosovar villages and towns. In considering only direct eyewitness accounts, the report tries to limit the impact of rumor on the accounts.
The 8 regions of Kosovo concerned are: Dakovica, Drenica, Mitrovica, Orahovac, Klina and north of Klina, Prizren and south of Prizren, Istok, Pec, and Pristina.
For ethical reasons, the questionnaire did not raise the question of rape. Sexual violence has been discussed in a medical context only
The coherence and similarities of the witness accounts reveal the deportations from Kosovo as part of a systematic policy in which the modus operandi, participants, and objectives can only have been pre-planned. The crimes committed qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The epidemiological survey and the individual witness accounts highlight the following:
1. The main cause of population movement is deportation.
The population is not fleeing armed confrontations: they are being forced to leave their city or village under the threat of death. The epidemiological survey shows that 91% of the displaced Kosovars in Rozaje, Montenegro, have been forced to leave their homes after direct threats or attacks. In the vast majority of cases, the military objective is to deport the entire population of a given area. Force and terror are used to empty entire villages. On the other side of the border, groups of displaced Kosovars, including entire families, neighborhoods, and villages are to be found.
- The enforced character of the deportations is illustrated by the conditions of expulsion from the villages and towns. It is also clear that soldiers, police, and armed paramilitary control the convoy of deportees all along the route. These people are forced to take a particular route up to the border: they cannot stray from the route without risk.
- A certain number of witness accounts describe very chaotic evacuation routes. The convoys of deportees were sometimes forced to make long detours instead of taking the shortest route. According to 201 families interviewed in Montenegro, the length of deportation journeys varies between 1 and 23 days. At other times, deportees were given contradictory orders. After having been chased from their homes, Serb forces ordered them to return to their homes where they were attacked once again. During these displacements, convoys of deportees were directed towards the front lines and pockets of KLA resistance in order to destabilize the enemy.
2. Deportation is accompanied by looting and destruction of deportee possessions:
The witness accounts report the burning of buildings, the destruction of property, and the killing of cattle. Deportees are often victims of extortion by different groups of police and paramilitary; among those who cannot pay, certain are executed in front of other deportees. Cars are often stolen or large sums of money are exacted from owners in order to keep their vehicles. Doctors Without Borders teams in the field confirm that refugees arriving in the neighboring countries have few if any personal possessions with them.
Murders in connection with acts of theft and racketeering represent a significant proportion of the deaths mentioned in the witness accounts.
3. Methods of enforced deportation are almost identical everywhere.
Violence and selective murder form an integral part of the method used to spread terror and punish those who refuse to obey evacuation orders. Violence increases in proportion to the amount of time that passes after the initial evacuation order is issued.
A typical method of enforced deportation is as follows:
Firstly: Either the village (or the area) is bombed, or the police go house to house ordering residents to evacuate, threatening them with death if they do not leave.
The presence and actions of the police, paramilitary, and military troops create an atmosphere of terror. Houses are set alight, grenades are launched on buildings, and cattle are killed. Many corroborating witness accounts describe the killing and injuring of family members. Most of the injured or dead are wounded as a result of explosions of grenades inside houses.
Villagers who manage to flee and find temporary refuge in neighboring villages or towns often experience the same chain of events in new locations. Populations from different villages are organized into groups. From these locations, groups of people are deported in convoys to border crossing points.
Secondly: If people refuse to obey evacuation orders, they suffer violent repercussions, including being surrounded by tanks, bombed, and shot at by police or paramilitary. The assassination of entire families has been reported. With the passage of time the attacks on the population remaining in Kosovo become more violent.
At the moment of expulsion: Village residents are gathered together and the men are often separated from the women. They are interrogated and searched, and money and identity papers are taken from them. The men usually rejoin the group later. Once the villages have been emptied they are systematically burned.
The population is then led in convoys, controlled by the military, to other locations where populations are grouped together again and taken to one of the different border crossing points. The journey to the border is usually taken on foot or by tractor. It can take several days or nights without the possibility to stop and rest. 93% of families who have arrived in Rozaje (Montenegro) have crossed the mountains on foot (through an average of 1.2 meters of snow). Trains and buses have also been used, from Pristina, for example.
4. Groups reported to be responsible for enforcing the deportation are always the same.
The police, paramilitary groups, and the federal army are present in all the witness accounts. These different forces act in collaboration with each other; there is no disagreement reported between these troops.
- Nearly every account mentions the presence and violence of the police and masked paramilitary. Some witnesses report having recognized Serb neighbors or local police among these forces. It appears that some of these police or paramilitary wear masks so as not to be identified if they are locals from the region.
- The presence of Arkan troops is described in certain witness reports from the region of Pec and Istok, particularly in the village of Vrela on the 27th of March.
5. The police and army systematically confiscate and destroy identity papers.
The absence of identity papers varies depending on the individual mode of deportation. Those refugees who have crossed the border posts in Albania have nearly all been body-searched and no longer have any form of identification.
When these searches were not carried out systematically, e.g. at the border crossings with Montenegro and Macedonia, a number of people manage to hide and keep their identity papers. In Rozaje, Montenegro, 46% of the deported population have no identity papers, the rest have some form of identification.
6. The injured, missing, and dead.
Although there are no reliable figures on the number of deaths, injured and missing within each family, the epidemiological survey carried out by Doctors Without Borders in Montenegro shows that the male/female ratio is unbalanced. There is 13% lack of males in the 15-55 age group. The study shows that 28% of families have left at least one member of the family in Kosovo.
More than half the witness accounts describe murders that were committed under various conditions, indicating an extremely high level of violence.
The accounts repeatedly describe the following:
- men, women, and children killed or injured during grenade attacks on their houses
- people killed and injured during the pillage and looting of the population. Those who do not immediately hand over their money or car, or those who no longer have any money or possessions to give are executed in front of the others.
- men, women, and children killed or injured when police fire into the crowd if the population did not obey quickly enough, or if they resisted the expulsion order.
- all along the route, men were picked out of the convoy of deportees and executed.
7. Separation of men and women.
The separation of men and women is frequently mentioned in witness accounts. It often occurs at the beginning of the attacks. In most cases, the aim is to make the men talk, and to rob them of their money and identity papers. There are some accounts of murders as part of the policy of spreading general terror.
The separation of men and women can occur along the deportation journey. In these cases it is individual men who are targeted. Witness accounts describe the systematic beating of men that have been separated before the Albanian border.
According to other witness accounts men were taken to dig trenches and install military posts on the Albanian border. Most of these men were later expelled to Albania where they were reunited with their families.
It is not only men who are missing from the deported families. On arrival a number of women and children are not with their families. Among all of the accounts collected by Doctors Without Borders, only one specifically reports two young women having been taken away by the paramilitary. Another account from Belanitza describes women and children being taken away in four trucks to an unknown destination.
At the border crossing many witnesses describe the behavior of the military and police towards women in the convoys as aggressive, insulting, and obscene.
The nature of the violence inflicted on the deported Kosovar populations should influence the quality of relief aid provided.
In the context of criminal deportation, looting and destruction of the legal identity of individuals, relief actions should aim to mitigate the most harmful consequences of these crimes on individuals, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) recommends:
- The quick, systematic, individual registration of the deportees under the international authority of the UNHCR in all the neighboring countries is still the main preliminary to all assistance for deported Kosovar individuals.
- This independent, international registration is also necessary to protect the individuals in neighboring countries against risks related to tension and internal insecurity that the refugees may be the victims of.
- This registration will be the essential reference to ensure a balanced distribution of aid and to limit the risk of the misappropriation of humanitarian aid.
- All relocations of Kosovar deportees should be voluntary.
- So as not to hinder the relief and protection activities, the clear separation of military and humanitarian actions should be sought. It is also necessary so as to :
- limit aid being used as an instrument in the military actions in and around Kosovo;
- limit the pressure on the deportees in terms of enrollment and financial support of military operations.
Mass Expulsion from Kosovo
A Survey of Kosovar Refugees
at Rozaje, Montenegro
Vincent Brown, MSF/Epicentre, 4/27/99
A Summary of Results from a Random Survey of 201 Kosovar Refugee Families in Rozaje, Montenegro,
April 14-15, 1999
RESULTS Number % families
1. Description of the sample and history of deportation
Families surveyed 201 100.0%
Size of the sample = 1537
Number of people per family = 7.6
Male/Female Ratio (15-55years) = 0.88 (400/453)
Families homeless for more than 5 days 94 46.7%
Average length of exodus = 7.6 days (extremes : < 1 to 23 days)
Families from "Villages" 189 94.0%
Families who fled on foot 187 93.0%
Without Kosovar identity papers 92 45.8%
Length of stay at Rozaje > 5days 93 46.3%
Reason for departure 94 46.5%
= direct threats / armed men
2. Impact of the war
Families with> 1 member remaining in Kosovo 56 27.8%
Total for the sample = 169 people remaining in Kosovo (9.9%)
With at least one death/ war (24/03-15/04/99) 3 1.5%
With one missing person 10 5.0%
Total for the sample = 28 missing persons
With at least one wounded member 9 4.5%
(Total wounded = 14)
3. Basic needs
Without blankets 17 8.5%
global average for the sample = 1.7 people / blanket
Without mattresses 87 43.3%
global average for the sample = 6.7 people / mattress
Without bread for at least 24 hours 19 9.5%
global average for the sample = 200 grams of bread per person/ 24hrs.,
4. Outlook for the immediate future
"Staying in Rozaje" or "Do not know" 159 79%
24 families (11.9%) are planning move on to Albania
NATO air raids in the region began on March, 24, 1999 and are continuing as this report is issued. The raids have been immediately followed by attacks lead by the Serbian army (and/or paramilitary groups, and /or the special police) on the Albanian majority of the Kosovar population. For over a month, these systematic attacks on towns and villages have forced the civilian population of Kosovo into the neighboring countries or regions of Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro. More than half a million people have fled to these countries and over 70 000 are now in Montenegro (Source UNHCR : 73 000 refugees in Montenegro as of 4/19/1999).
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) carried out a survey among Kosovar refugees in Rozaje, Montenegro. It is intended to describe the situation of the refugees and to evaluate their urgent needs.
The refugee population living with "host families" in Rozaje has been estimated at over 15,000. This population and additional refugees housed in local mosques are not reflected in this survey.
1. To establish demographic data on the refugee population (and the history of the exodus).
2. To evaluate the impact of exactions on the civilian population.
3. To evaluate the refugees' most urgent needs.
4. To envision immediate plans for the future.
A sample was established by randomly choosing participants in the three factories, Kristal, Liego-Biele, and Dekor. These sites are located in the most eastern part of Rozaje. They were chosen with the intention of evaluating the situation of the population that is considered to be "the most in need." From the outset it was decided that the survey would focus on a random sample of 150 to 200 families. The proportional distribution of the refugees among the three factories was taken into account in establishing the sample.
In order for the sample to be as representative as possible, each of the three factories was divided into ten sections (or rooms). The population of each of the 10 rooms was estimated before the draw was made.
When randomly selecting families from each room, the four teams conducting the survey (each team was made up of one MSF member and one translator speaking Albanian) followed the same procedure. The team stood in the centre of the room and chose one family at random and then proceeded with every second family counting from this initial choice. A "family" was defined as "all of the members of a closely knit group living under the same roof in Kosovo (in an apartment, or in a house)."
A total of 201 families, in all 1537 people were chosen to participate in the survey.
All of the families responded to the questions on the individual questionnaire.
Number of people per family = 7.6
Description of the refugee population:
* For the entire population, Male/Female ratio = 0.99 (768/769)
* For the 15-55 age group, Male/Female ratio = 0.88 (400/453)
Table 1 : Distribution of the 1537 refugees into 4 age groups, and by gender, Rozaje, Montenegro, 15 April 1999
Age Men (%) Women (%) Total (%)
0-4 82 (10.6) 77 (10.0) 159 (10.5)
5-14 220 (28.7) 159 (20.7) 379 (24.5)
15-55 400 (52.1) 453 (58.9) 853 (55.5)
+ 55 66 (8.6) 80 (10.4) 146 (9.5)
TOTAL 768 (100.0) 769 (100.0) 1537 (100.0)
* Villages =189 families/201 = 94.0% (56 villages counted + list of names)
* Towns = 12 families/ 201 = 6.0% (mostly from Pec and Ishtok).
< /P > < /P >
Duration of the exodus:
* The average duration of the exodus for the 201 families in the sample was 7.6 days (extremes : <1 day to 23 days). Among these families, a proportion of 53.2% (107/201) reached Rozaje in 5 days (see Table 2).
* Most of the families had to flee on foot across the mountains = 187/201 (93.0%).
* A total of 45/201 families (22.3%) reached Rozaje in less than 24 hours. Among these 45 families, 33 (73.3%) made their way on foot (some of them made a short part of their journey by tractor).
* For the 156 families for whom the duration of exodus was more than 24 hours ( > 1 day) the average was 9.8 days (extremes : 1 to 23 days).
Table 2: Duration of exodus for 201 refugee families in three factories,
Rozaje, Montenegro, April 15, 1999.
Days on the road No. Families (%)
< 5 days 107 (53.2)
5-10 days 25 (12.5)
11-23 days 69 (34.3)
Total 201 (100.0)
* The names of a majority of refugees have been registered on lists established by 'Mother Theresa' (NGO).
* Only one family (1 / 201) has received an official registration form (which recognises its status as a refugee family).
* A total of 92/201 families (45.8%) have no Kosovar identity papers.
Length of stay:
* On average, surveyed families have already spent 6 days at Rozaje (extremes 1 - 16 days).
* At the time of the survey, 46.3% (93/201) of families have been in Rozaje for at least 5 days (see Table 3).
Table 3: Length of stay for 201 refugee families in three factories,
Rozaje, Montenegro, April 15, 1999.
Length of stay No. Families (%)
< 5 days 108 (54.0)
5-10 days 54 (27.0)
11-16 days 39 (19.0)
Total 201 (100.0)
Impact of the war:
* A total of 56/201 (27.8%) families left "at least" one member behind when they left Kosovo.
* The number of persons left behind in this manner comes to a total of 169 representing a proportion of 9.9% percent of the overall sample. [169 / (1537 + 169) ].
* The three main causes cited for fleeing from Kosovo: 1) attacks on towns/villages (bombs, grenades,..), 2) direct physical threats from armed men, 3) to avoid reprisals which had already begun in their region : among 201 families these reasons respectively represented 89 (44.5%), 94 (46.5%), and 18 (9.0%) of the 201 families.
* A total of 6 deaths (civilians) were reported for the period from March 24 to April 14, 1999. Of these six deaths, 4 were violent (caused by bullets,..) and 2 were caused by "exhaustion " which occurred while the refugees were on the run (a child of 7 months and a woman of 80).
* A total of 14 people were wounded during the expulsion. Wounded or injured members were reported by 9/201 of the families (4.5%).
* A total of 17/201 families do not have blankets, 8.5% of the sample.
* The other 184 families surveyed, have a total of 880 blankets, an average of 4.8 per family [or 1.7 (1537/880) people per blanket].
* 43.3% of the families (87/201) have no mattresses.
* A total of 228 mattresses was recorded for the 1537 people in the sample (= 6.7 persons per mattress).
* 9.5% of the families (19/201) had not received a ration of bread (distributed = once a day). These 19 families all belonged to a group of 45 families who had arrived at Rozaje less than 24 hours earlier.
* A total of 525 loaves of bread (600 grams each) were distributed to the 1537 persons in the sample.
Short term prospects
The refugee families were asked what they thought they would do in the following week.
For now, 2/3 of the sample thought they would remain in the factories at Rozaje.
Table 4 : Short term prospects ("a week") for 201 refugee
families, in three factories at Rozaje, Montenegro, April 15, 1999.
Prospect Number (%)
Remain here 137 (68.2)
Another town (*) 8 (4.0)
Another country(**) 34 (16.9)
Do not know 22 (10.9)
Total 201 (100.0)
(*) : A total of 4/201 (2.0%) families wanted to go to Ulcinj.
(**) : A total of 24/201(11.9%) families wanted to move on to Albania.
INTERPRETATION AND ANALYSIS OF RESULTS
The sample selected for the survey can be considered as quite representative of the refugee population most in need, however the survey could not take into account the most recent arrivals who were settled in tents in difficult conditions (night temperatures hovering at close to 0° C, windy area, lack of basic necessities, etc.).
The overall sex distribution within the sample appears to be "normal," although the figure for males in the 15 to 55 age group is under-represented. This may indicate that a proportion of men have stayed on to fight, or are dead. A further possibility is that they were taken prisoner. During the survey it was reported that some civilians were taken prisoner.
The proportion of children aged under 15 (36%) seems higher than the expected figure for this type of population in peace time. Due to a lack of reliable reference data, no conclusions can be drawn for the moment.
Nearly 46% of the families surveyed no longer have their Kosovar identity papers. Neither did they receive papers when they were recorded on the lists maintained by " Mother Theresa " (NGO) or by the local police. Given that this population is officially considered to be displaced in Montenegro (Republic of Serbia), and given that under current conditions the UNHCR is unable to grant them the status of refugees, official recognition of their identity and status is now a serious problem.
More than half of the surveyed population arrived in Rozaje less than five days ago. They had fled to avoid the recent series of exactions which took place in the villages around Ishtok. Now that a list of the names of the villages that produced this wave of refugees has been established, it is possible to determine the order of successive attacks launched by Serbian forces.
The survey has also facilitated the documentation of military strategies used against villages: mortar or grenade attacks, followed by heavy gunfire or firebomb attacks, and then the pursuit of the fleeing population (direct fire on civilians, including women and children). The reports of this kind of attack are corroborated by accounts of shootings and wounded civilians which were reported in the survey. Furthermore, almost half of the refugee families questioned in the course of the survey report having their lives threatened in their own homes.
If we extrapolate the results of the survey to the entire refugee population of Rozaje (at least 25,000 people), almost one hundred violent deaths are likely to have occurred in this population, over the period from March 24 to April 15, 1999. In the same period, the number of those wounded by bullets and mortar grenade shrapnel is likely to represent more than 200 cases.
Since March 24, 1999, the refugee population has also been affected by the separation of families. About a third of families report being separated from at least one close family member - either "left behind" in Kosovo (28.0%), or "missing" (5.0%). Extrapolating from this data, the figure for those left behind or missing for the 25,000 refugee population in Rozaje may be as high as 3,000.
Figures for dead and wounded as well as "missing persons" and persons "left behind" were also reported for the period from February 28, 1998 (attacks on Drenica) to March 23, 1999. These 1998 figures are lower than those reported for the period from March 24 to April 15, 1999, and they are not analysed in this report.
Regarding basic needs, the refugees living in the factories, under tents or in the mosques brought virtually nothing with them to Rozaje, and sanitary conditions are very precarious (before the survey was conducted a rapid evaluation of basic needs in the three refugee sites was undertaken). The results of the survey confirm the findings of the rapid evaluation particularly with regard to food and bedding (blankets and mattresses).
The survey attempted to establish the effectiveness of the last distribution of bread rations on the preceding day. The survey found that the average individual bread ration per refugee was around 200g (instead of the 300g officially announced planned).
It is possible that some families are still living on their meagre savings, but from now on it is important to envision that the nutritional situation could deteriorate. With the constant influx of new arrivals, the limited resources of NGOs and the local community may soon prove to be insufficient.
In terms of basic needs, the question of the living conditions of the refugee population must be addressed immediately. Sanitary problems pose a serious threat in the short term. Usual indicators (number of square meters/person, number of litres of water/day, the ratio of refugees/latrines) show that recommended norms are not being respected and that there is a real risk of epidemics.
Despite registered departures for Albania (over 20 000 departures registered at the border post in Tuzi, for the period March 24 to April 22, 1999), it is likely that the global needs of refugees will remain more or less constant in the following weeks. The influx of refugees arriving from Kosovo to Rozaje can reach 1000 - 2000 per day (confirmed from April 13 to 20, 1999). One must keep in mind that thousands of other refugees, blocked in Kosovo because of security reasons, can still arrive.
Given that Rozaje is only 20 km from a war zone, the question of security is one of the most urgent issues. Since its arrival in the municipality of Rozaje, Montenegro, the Kosovar refugee community has lived in fear. Refugees are frightened by the possibility of exactions perpetrated by groups of armed men crossing the border from Kosovo (since April 15, non-identified cars with armed men were met on several occasions between Rozaje and the border). On April 20, 1999, two refugees were killed only 7km south east of Rozaje. Others have reported being insulted and beaten by paramilitaries, the Serbian army or the special police. The wounded avoid seeking treatment in Rozaje because they are afraid of drawing attention to themselves. All of these facts confirm the existence of the current repressive policy adopted with regard to the Kosovar refugees.
Obviously a long-term solution to the problem of the Kosovar refugees in Montenegro will be some time in the making. In the interim, it is imperative that they should be provided with living conditions that meet acceptable levels of security and sanitation.
Urgent measures to be taken are as follows:
1. Take measures ensuring usual security conditions in refugee situation
* Register each family and provide them with an individual registration document.
* Inform the international community of any exactions perpetrated on refugees.
* Relocate refugees to sites which are at a sufficient distance from the border (the usual recommended distance = at least 50km from the border).
* Settle a security perimeter around the sites.
* Maintain security during transport of refugees from one site to another.
* Monitor and defend cases of murdered, missing, imprisoned and wounded refugees.
2. Ensure a minimum scale of decent living conditions for refugees in exile in Montenegro:
* Install refugees in accommodation providing a minimum of 3.5 square meters per person (at the moment, this figure is usually < 1 square meter per person).
* Set up a water supply system. It is recommended in refugee situations to provide a minimum of twenty litres per person per day, the usual recommended level, and at least one tap for every 250 people. (At the moment the refugees in Montenegro have less than 10 litres / person / day; and a tap of water for several hundred refugees).
* Ensure a minimal individual ration of 2300 Kcal / person / day "during cold weather". (At the moment there is no reliable data on the refugees' diet).
* Provide a sufficient number of WCs and latrines; the norm is 1 WC / 20 people (the current estimate = 1 WC / 200 - 300 people).
* Ensure a minimal provision for protection from the cold (mattresses, blankets, and clothing).
* Ensure minimal conditions for personal hygiene and group hygiene are maintained (soap, hot water, privacy/showers, diapers, sanitary towels, flea treatment).
3. Medical services: as access to medical services is complicated by security issues, overworked staff and lack of means, the following must be monitored closely:
* Ensure basic treatments are available (necessary means should be given to Kosovar doctors working on the refugee sites, and support of the Montenegrin health service should be encouraged).
* Ensure the management of medical and surgical cases (heart problems/HTA, endocrinous problems/diabetes, war wounds..).
* Vaccinate children under five with the five antigens (children under five are known to have low vaccine coverage in Kosovo).
* Evaluate the extent of psychiatric problems so that the management of particular cases can be envisioned.
* Set up the surveillance of common diseases, and also monitor "deaths" and "wounded" (c.f. appendix), alert in case of any outbreak.
This survey allows us to describe the drama suffered by Kosovar refugees since March 24, 1999. It also sheds light on the particular difficulties the refugees face in Montenegro, particularly in the Rozaje municipal area.
When the refugees are asked about their immediate plans (see Survey), only a small percentage of families envision to leave Rozaje for another Montenegrin town (e.g. Ulcinj) or to move on to another country (Albania).
One of the main reasons for this is that the refugee population living in the factories (and also in the mosques and under tents) has very limited finances or no finances whatsoever.
The current situation is characterized by issues of security and sanitary priorities. The NGOs are unable to deal with these problems alone. In as much as this situation is likely to continue, the international community in agreement with the local national government ought to seek medium term solutions for the Kosovar refugees.
The following witness accounts collected by Doctors Without Borders in Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro trace the experiences of 639 people from 43 cities or villages in Kosovo between March 25th and April 16th, 1999. People answered a standardized questionnaire regarding the conditions surrounding their departure and the fate of members of their family.
NOTE: The names of the witnesses, victims, and aggressors have been removed from the following accounts.
The Region of Klina and to the North-East of Klina
These witness accounts tell of attacks and expulsions in this region during the period from March 25 to April 12, affecting the towns of Klina and Kladernica and their surrounding villages (Josanica, Rakenic, Kasterc, Padalista, Rezold, Vocnjak).
In and around Klina
Around the March 25, the police ordered the inhabitants to leave the villages near Klina. These expulsions were carried out with violence in the presence of the police, soldiers, and paramilitaries. The inhabitants of these villages descended on Klina. At around 6.30 in the evening on March 28, the police surrounded the homes and ordered the evacuation of the inhabitants of Klina. The evacuation took place over several days, at least until March 31.
The people left the town of Klina in convoys, district by district. The police decided the route taken: people were obliged to head south, in the direction of Dakovica. Along the way, at Kraljane, the police proceeded to separate the men from the women. The men were stripped and searched, attacked and injured. Some of them were taken by the police to places unknown.
The journey of one day and one night was undertaken on foot or by tractor as far as Krume, on the Albanian border. The police kept the cars. Some of the people expelled from Klina on March 31 came via Dakovica to Morina, another point on the Albanian border.
Villages surrounding Klina :
Josanica: This is a village near Klina. On March 27, it was attacked by groups of paramilitaries who proceeded to execute people. The inhabitants were sent to Klina, from where they were evacuated in convoys to Albania.
A woman told us: "At about 6.30 in the morning, on Saturday the 27th of March, groups of paramilitaries came into our house. They slaughtered my uncle in the garden, followed by my father inside the house. We went as far as Klina to hide, but policemen ordered us to leave the town. They were burning the houses. We went to Kraljane, where we were stuck for two days because there was fighting between the UCK/KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] and the Serbs who were surrounding the area. The UCK must have surrendered because they had no munitions left. The Serbs then separated the women from the men. I went to Dakovica without being allowed to stop except at the Serb checkpoints where I had to surrender everything I had."
One man, forced to leave on March 28, tells his story: "I left my home about a year ago after soldiers burnt down some houses in my village and occupied others. Me and my family were staying with friends on the 28th of March when once again the Serbs drove us out. We carried on to Voinic where my wife has relatives and from there on to Tushila.
At 11 in the morning the village was surrounded. We took refuge in a school but after an hour we gave ourselves in as there was no escape; a man walked out of the school waving a white flag. Men were separated from women and children. Some policemen and soldiers wore masks, others didn't. They let women, children and the elderly go. I was taken in an armoured vehicle to the barracks and then some soldiers began to beat me up. One soldier recognized me and told the soldier to stop. Then another came, an officer, and said that all men had to be killed. They took our money and jewelry from the women who were also there. I tried to defend myself, saying that I spoke Serbo-Croat very well, that I'd worked all over Serbia, that they shouldn't be doing this, that they must have families of their own. I showed them my retirement papers to prove that I had no more money. They let us go, ordering us to go to Klina. We walked for 2 days and 2 nights. I still have no idea where my two sons are.
Near Betsa soldiers opened fire on 4 young people. I didn't know them but they came from Shtupel. There were two brothers and two sisters from the same family; they were on the edge of the road with injuries to their legs, feet and upper-body. Their father was with them."
A village somewhere near Klina
A woman (age not known) gives her account: "At around 2 p.m. the Serbs came and drove us out of our village. Seven policemen came into the garden, surrounded the house and told us to leave immediately; my husband was a bit further away from the house and managed to get away. I haven't heard from him since. The police made the seven families in our village (about 170 people) get into a group and then told us to lie down on the ground, firing several rounds. Five people were hit, including three of my own children. The Serbs kept us on the ground like that for 24 hours and then told us to get up and leave. All along the road were soldiers, paramilitaries. They took away our IDs at the border."
A 27-year-old woman talks of her ordeal: "At 3 p.m., on the 31st of March, the police came into our apartment and gave us 5 minutes to leave. There were four of them, each wearing a mask. We were made to leave, leaving all our things behind. We were told to go to Dacovica, that vans would come and collect us from the town center. Only one van turned up; we had to go on foot, walking two days and a night, for about 50 km. I didn't see any dead, just a burnt-out village. Our Ids were taken from us at the border."
A 28-year-old man tells his story: "Police entered our house the 28th of March and told us to go to Albania. Around 3,000 people were gathered in the streets. On the road, we were stopped by police and were told to keep our hands in the air for quite a long time. The police then separated men over 16 from the rest of the group. They took us somewhere and then told us to get undressed and to turn to face the manned machine-guns. We stayed there, in the rain, for two hours. Some snipers targeted several men in the group."
Another man, 20-years-old: "On the 28th of March, police came and surrounded our area. They took away our cars, but let us leave in our tractors. We went to Dakovica but the UCK told it'd be better to go to Kraljane. We were stopped by the police who separated the men and women. The men were told to undress and the police took all our money. We were made to stay there the whole night. In the morning, tanks came and acted as if they were going to run over us. An officer said that if we wanted to avoid being killed, we would have to pay him; we gave him what we had left. They then led 75 men away - we don't know where."
A 40-year-old woman tells her story: "The police forced their way into my house on the 31st of March at around 6.30 in the evening and ordered us to leave the house. My husband was beaten and the Serbs took me and my children to the Albanian border."
Kladernica and the surrounding area
On April 11, 12, and 13, Kladernica and some near-by villages (Kasterc, Padalista, Rezold, Tushila, Skenderag and Rakenic) were attacked by police and soldiers; grenades were thrown and houses burnt-out. The villagers were forced to flee to Kladernica where they were all gathered together by the police on April 13. Men were separated from the women. No one knows what happened to them.
They were joined at Kladernica by people from Istok and Drenica, 2 other villages attacked, and formed a huge convoy of several thousand people, some on foot, some travelling in tractors, heading for Dakovica, Prizren. On April 14, the convoy arrived, just missing the air raid near Landovitsa, near Prizren. The refugees heard that 15 people were killed and more injured.
A bus takes people from Prizren to the Albanian border (Morina). Soldiers line the road.
The people in the convoy had their I.D. confiscated.
A 47-year-old woman tells her story (March 30): "We were forced to leave by the Serbs, demanding money if my husband wanted to leave with the tractor. Since my husband is almost deaf, he didn't hear, so the Serbs said that if he didn't obey they were going to give him "another operation" (he'd just had an ear operation), gesturing that they were going to cut his throat; they took him away." She has not heard from him since. Her ID was confiscated at the border.
A 73-year-old women :"At 7 a.m., on the 12th of April, the soldiers began to throw grenades at our houses and opened fire. The whole village (170 people) went to the school at Kladernica where we stayed for 3 days. More than 7,000 people were there, from neighboring villages ransacked and burnt-out by the Serbs. There weren't any Serbs at Kladernica so we thought we were safe.
But on the 13th of April at 7 a.m. we were surrounded and separated men from the women; the soldiers didn't wear masks. Women and children were taken to Klina, then the elderly and some men were released and rejoined us. We carried on our way, constantly followed by police and soldiers.
At Turishev, men between the ages of 20 & 40 (more than 200 in all) were separated from the rest; women, children and the old had to go to Djacova. We walked the whole of Tuesday night until we got to a school where we sheltered for a few hours. There weren't any police or soldiers.
At 5 in the morning, Wednesday, we moved on. There were soldiers in the road, in groups, but only at Klina and Prizren. They shouted things at us: "So where's America to help you now? Go to your Grandmother's - Albania!."
On the 14th of April, we walked to Prizren. At Cerxe, which we got to at midday, villagers gave us bread and water. An old man died of exhaustion. Nothing particular happened on the route between Djacova and Prizren that morning, except when we were at Ura Eshejt; soldiers told us to hurry up as NATO were going to bomb the bridge. We saw the smoke from a distance [+/- 9 km] and later, when people from the convoy behind us arrived, they told us that the bridge had actually been bombed and 60 killed. According to rumour, it was a Serb plane that bombed the bridge and 20 minutes later, NATO attacked the same place, which I actually heard. At Prizren, a coach came to take us nearer to the border; the driver told us that he couldn't take us further than Zur since he was too scared; he told us that after that, the road was mined and he told us not to split up. We crossed the border at 5 p.m. after waiting 2 hours."
A young 15-year-old girl: (April 12) "The village was surrounded by policemen; we were at home. There were soldiers everywhere, as far as the forest. A hand grenade was thrown in the direction of our house, and it landed just in front of me. My hand was wounded and I lost a lot of blood. We managed to escape along the river, through the forest and then along the road. Soldiers were posted every ten meters along the road. Once we had crossed the border, I was taken to the Italian camp (and from there onto Kukes hospital to get some X-rays done). My ID papers were confiscated at the border."
A 62-year-old woman: "I was forced to leave my village three weeks ago. I took refuge in a school in Kladernica. On 11th April, the Serbs came and surrounded us, separating men from women. I don't know what has become of my two sons. Along the road I only saw policemen, no soldiers; I wasn't allowed once to stop and rest. At around 4 p.m. on 15th April I arrived at a place near Prizen. Somebody opened the village school, where we were allowed to spend the night. There were thousands of us, and none of us had eaten or drunk anything for three days. One person died of exhaustion."
A 47-year-old woman: "At six o'clock in the morning of 12th April, our village was surrounded by the police and soldiers wearing no masks. Several men gathered around each of the houses. They entered our house and told us to leave immediately if we didn't want to burn along with the house, and with no other warning, they set the place on fire.
The children were still asleep, so we plucked them from their beds and ran to the center of the village of Tushila, half an hour away from Kladernica, where the police 'grouped us together'. There were about 5,000 people, maybe more. Men and women were separated. The women were allowed to leave with the children, then around fifty old men were allowed to join us; we were told that the men were then taken to Skenderaj, and that there, the police would execute any members of the UCK, and the rest were to be freed.
We were now behind the place where the bombing had taken place; it was near Landovitsa, just before Pritzen (10 minutes away by car in normal conditions). A man came along in a tractor to tell us that the bombing was continuing. Further on, we saw blood and parts of human bodies on the road; the dead and wounded had been taken away; there was an awful lot of military traffic, including many military ambulances as well as three Serb Red Cross cars. We were told to keep moving.
When we arrived at Prizren, we were put in a bus and taken to the border; the army followed us as far as Vermitza. Soldiers were also posted every 10 meters along each side of the road, some wearing camouflage face-paint, with beards and long hair.
At the border, our ID papers were taken from us. Lining us up two-abreast, they made us walk along without straying from the road as there were mines. One girl had no ID papers; the customs officers pulled her to the sidelines, searched her and shouted at her, demanding to know where her ID papers were, and why she didn't have them on her. They finally let her past. There were still more people arriving behind us; they'd come from Itoki."
A 35-year-old woman : "We haven't been able to sleep properly for a year now. We were afraid that they would come to kill us. On Monday morning, 12th April, the Serbs attacked our village with grenades. We were forced to leave with around a thousand others from Kladernica. We took refuge in a school. The Serbs separated men and women, and I was forced to leave with my grandmother and my two sons. Later, I was told that half the men had managed to escape. There are also rumours that the men were taken to Serbia.
Many people were arriving from Istok by tractor. It seemed that the entire population of Drenica was on the road. On Wednesday, we arrived at Prizren, and on the road we saw lots of wounded and dead, bodies which were torn to shreds. The people at the head of the convoy shouted to us to go no further as shells were being fired at us ahead. They were bodies and injured all along the road for one kilometer. We saw a plane passing above our heads. There was quite a lot of military traffic on the road, but they were nowhere to be seen during the shelling attack.
The police came to take the wounded away ten minutes after the shelling. I heard that there were around fifteen killed and around the same number wounded. There was blood everywhere, decapitated, corpses, some with even the arms and feet blown away: the wounded howled with pain when we moved them: it was horrible. A dozen Serb police came to collect them. All they said is that they would take them to hospital, then, once they were better, would drive them to the border. They told us to go to Albania.
On the road from Prizren, once again there were soldiers and police of all ages in lorries and on foot. They raised three fingers in the air to insult us, and told us to do the same and shout out "Serbia, Serbia." We lowered our heads. Only one of them was wearing a mask.
We wanted to stop a moment to rest a while, but they fired bullets into the air to force us to move on. I saw two 7-8 month old babies being hastily buried by their parents at a stolen moment whilst the police weren't watching. Not even a year old, dead from exhaustion and dehydration. It then rained all night. Abandoned vehicles lay all along the road.
When we arrived at Prizren, we were taken by lorry to the border. Five buses and lorries went back and forth. At Vermitza, the police made us get out of the bus and put us in file, telling us not to stray to the sides as there were mines. A customs official came round with a torch and inspected our legs and eyes. There were still more people arriving behind us, from Istok, Mitrovica, Skenderaj and Klina."
Istok region and Pec
The witness accounts indicate that 31 towns in the Istok region and Pec were attacked and their inhabitants deported between March 24 and April 10. Doctors Without Borders has more detailed accounts concerning attacks on the following towns between March 25 and April 14: Padalista, Vrela, Belaj, Cerce, Racosh, Pec, the Istok region. The inhabitants of Istok itself and the other towns in the vicinity were attacked or deported on March 27 and 28.
Padalista is a village near Istok, attacked on March 27 in mid-morning by the police, paramilitaries, and the Yugoslav army, with jeeps, trucks, and tanks. Some of the attackers wore masks to cover their faces; they were the ones who did the killing. Some of the population fled into the forest, the rest were sent to Istok.
A 21-year-old woman, accompanied by 27 members of her family:
"On the 27th of March in the middle of the morning, the police, the paramilitaries, and the Yugoslav army attacked our town with Jeeps, trucks, and tanks. There were about 300 of them; some of them had their faces covered. We heard shooting non-stop for about an hour which prevented us from leaving the house. Then someone broke a window and came in that way. It was my neighbor's son. He was wearing a black scarf on his head. When he came in he said, 'We aren't neighbors anymore'. The police ordered us to leave the house. Three members of my family did so. As soon as they were outside they were shot and killed by the Yugoslav army. The rest of the family managed to get away and we hid in the surrounding area. During the time that we were hiding I witnessed several similar scenes in which people were killed, including a two-year-old child."
The police deported the non-Serbian inhabitants of this town on March 28.
A 36-year-old man describes what happened to him:
"On the 28th of March, four armed police officers went by car from door to door demanding that the residents leave the town. I left with my family. All the inhabitants left except the Serbs. I spent 10 days in the forest but the police caught up with us and told us to leave the area. We were sent in the direction of Prizren. But in Prizren we were turned away by the police; they told us to go back to Moistir. When we arrived in Moistir, the police threw grenades at us and started shooting, our houses were set on fire. My father and my five-year-old son were killed, my wife and my four other children were wounded. We managed to leave for Montenegro with those who were injured."
Racosh was attacked by the police and the army on March 28.
A 31-year-old man, a refugee in Montenegro along with 27 members of his family. His mother, father, and a young brother are still in Kosovo:
"Two weeks ago (the 28th or 29th of March), the police and the Yugoslav army used tanks to deport us from the town. The police set themselves upin houses where Serb families lived. We went into the mountains along with the people from two other towns. Everyone was on foot. Our houses were burning during that time. My father was injured by a bullet, we had to leave him on the mountain. In all there were three people from our town who were wounded who we had to leave in mountain villages along the way. There were a lot of other injured people from other towns. An 85-year-old woman died in the mountains."
On March 27 and the days that followed, the town of Istok was cleared of its non-Serbian population.
A 26-year-old woman, a refugee in Montenegro along with 20 members of her family:
"On Saturday (the 27th of March), the chief of police in Istok, asked some of his police officers to order us to leave the city and the Istok region as soon as possible. They told us, "After 6:00, we cannot guarantee your safety anymore." Arkan's troops were there, their faces were covered. At 5:00, they ordered us to go to the bus station. There were over 500 people there, maybe 1000. We were all afraid. We left for the mountains. But after two days and 13 hours of walking, we had to go back-we were cold, there was nothing to eat, there was too much snow. That Monday, the police saw us. They were expecting us and they led us to the bus station. Those who had access to a tractor or a lorry or a car left the city at that point, but a lot of people didn't have any of those. The police forced us onto a bus and took us outside the city. The police also had a lorry that was covered with a tarpaulin, but no one would go on that for fear of being massacred. The police threw grenades into the houses."
A 44-year-old woman who had fled with her father and five children: "On Saturday (the 27th of March) the police showed up at my house and ordered us to leave: 'You have to leave if you don't want to be shot'. I went to the city center. The houses had been looted by the Gypsies and then burned down by the police. The OSCE house had been burned. Then I fled into the mountains in the rain. I walked for about ten hours, along with children (the youngest was a month old) and some disabled people. We spent three days in the mountains with nothing, no food, no change of clothes, no money. Eventually we went back to the town. The police were waiting for us. They brought everyone together (maybe 5000 people) at the bus station. They hit us and they threatened us. Old people and paralysed people were shot. The police gave us an ultimatum: "If you haven't left by 11:00 tonight you're dead." We waited for five hours. The police were all around us and they started shooting in the air. Some Albanians with tractors took me to Rozaje, in Montenegro. But some people had no way to pay. Then the police requisitioned a bus, driven by police, and forced people onto it."
A 19-year-old woman with her wounded parents and brother: "We were attacked. We tried to escape and the police took shots at us with their weapons. My mother, my brother, my father and I were injured. We somehow managed to get to the mountains. In all, 300 people left as a group. After spending three days in the mountains we finally arrived in Montenegro."
A man, 39, with seven members of his family: "Eight days ago (31st March or 1st April) the police came to find me in my office and told me to leave the premises within a half-hour. They also came to my house in Cerce (a town 2 km from Istok). All the houses were destroyed. The trip was terrifying. People had left cars, bikes, clothes, all along the way. When we were going through Istok we saw armed Cetniks. I worked with Serbs: the director and the senior managers started crying. I don't have any more news about my mother who was at Pec."
Pec and the surrounding area
Based on the accounts Doctors Without Borders has collected, the population was deported from the city of Pec (neighborhood by neighborhood) and the surrounding towns between March 25 and 31. These accounts indicate that the police participated in the deportation during the first few days and the Yugoslav army thereafter.
A 65-year-old man and his nine children: "I had to leave once before on 5th September 1988. They had burned our houses in the town of Belaje. I went to Pec. But on 25th March, the police surrounded us and threatened us with guns. We were rounded up at Vitomorica, then we went to Radapt where we stayed in houses belonging to Albanians. The next day, we left the area. We walked for two days in the mountains and arrived in Montenegro."
An 18-year-old man with his two parents, his two brothers, and his sister: "We were in the Dardania neighborhood. On Saturday (27th March), the police ordered us to leave the house. But we didn't leave. Our neighbors told us not to leave until we were forced to. After two or three hours the police came back. They threatened us with guns and ordered us again to leave the area. We formed a group in the city center and spent the night there. The next day at about 3:00 in the afternoon the police started firing into houses and burning them down. So we went into the mountains. We walked until nighttime. We were cold, we were soaking wet, there was snow everywhere. We had no clothes but what we were wearing. Eventually we arrived in Montenegro."
A 27-year-old man, his parents, his wife, and his two children: "On 31st March, soldiers from the Yugoslav army ordered the townspeople to leave the town. Fifteen people were injured. The soldiers began going into houses and shooting people. At 7:00 in the morning we all got in the car and drove to Rojaze (in Montenegro). Pec was deserted."
According to a witness account, the offensive against Novocelo began on March 28. It was conducted by paramilitaries, the Yugoslav army, and the police. In the beginning it only involved certain neighborhoods, so this witness was able to hide in the town until April 14. On that date he fled with eight members of his family, including four children, with a group of about 500 people across the mountain towards Montenegro.
Pristina and vicinity
According to testimony collected from witnesses, towns located in the vicinity of Pristina were attacked on about March 28. These attacks were conducted by police units, often with faces hidden, and apparently by Serb civilians as well. Houses were set on fire and threats made in order to force the population to leave. Residents fled to Pristina, where the systematic expulsion and deportation of inhabitants to Macedonia via train was begun on April 1.
Other cities and town in the Pristina region were also attacked on about April 9 and 10. In Vergoli, for example, masked men, heavily armed and attached to either the police or the army, began to violently force the population out of the town in the direction of Albania. Identity papers were systematically taken and houses burned.
A woman, her two sons, and 11 members of her family:
" I was forced to leave Pristina on 29th March. Masked men entered my house and made me leave. Wz had to walk in convoys to the train station. While we were walking, a police officer stopped them and forced them at gunpoint to hand over their money. We were insulted and threatened along the entire route by police officers and military men wearing Serbian uniforms. Some of them spoke Russian. When we arrived at the train station, they made us get on a train. While we waited in the queue, the Serbs looked for our passports and for money. They destroyed any passports they found. We managed to hide what we had. The trip took two hours. We waited an hour and a half at the border. Then we had to walk on the tracks because they told us that there were mines planted alongside. There were no guards on the Macedonian side. We arrived at Blace in Macedonia, a death camp, no water, no food, rain. We spent five days there waiting."
Continued on page 2.
Serbia & Montenegro