The UNHCR Must Take Full Responsibility for All of the Kosovo Refugees

MSF calls on Mrs. Sadako Ogata to Take Action

Skopje, Macedonia/New York, April 9, 1999 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called on Mrs. Sadako Ogata to ensure that the UNHCR takes full responsibility for the Kosovo refugees, including those outside the NATO refugee camps. The UNHCR must ensure that it fulfils its mandate to fully protect and assist the refugees in accordance with international refugee standards. MSF is extremely concerned that the minimum standards for the assistance and protection of refugees have been ignored for the Kosovo refugees.

"Many innocent civilians are suffering from the conflict in Yugoslavia. The least we can do is to take proper care of the people who escape," said Dr. Lex Winkler, Director General of MSF. "This means that the UNHCR must take on its full responsibilities to assist and protect these people."

During the past couple of weeks, refugees were left for days with no assistance in difficult conditions at the border. Recently at the border in Blace, when refugees were put into buses and transported away, there was no permanent UNHCR presence to monitor the number and destination of buses or refugees. The systematic monitoring of new arriving refugees is still not taking place, and many refugees have not been registered.

Without registration, refugees have no rights and families cannot be reunified. Without registered names, the numbers of refugees are easy to manipulate and assistance is difficult to monitor. Families were and still are being separated and transported to camps and to other countries (sometimes without their consent) and without information about each others' whereabouts.

Although heavy logistical assistance has been useful, NATO is first and foremost a military organization which is currently involved in the conflict. It is not a humanitarian actor and is neither responsible nor able to coordinate humanitarian relief activities for refugees. Protection and assistance for refugees is the responsibility of the UNHCR.

The UNHCR must take responsibility for the refugees in the NATO refugee camps (Stencovic, Brazda and Neprosteno), or other camps (Radusa) as well as for the thousands of refugees who are temporarily housed with families, for those who are still crossing the borders, and for those who are trying to do so but are being returned. MSF calls on Mrs. Ogata to:

  • ensure that the UNHCR fulfils its mandate and specifically that it:
  • ensure that the individual needs of refugees are met, particularly for vulnerable groups
  • ensure registration of refugees and reunification of families
  • ensure that the refugees and not forcefully repatriated or relocated
  • ensure that refugees are treated humanely

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization. Each year the organization sends more than 2,000 doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, and logisticians to provide medical aid in more than 83 countries.