Released by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, October 8, 1998
U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance in Kosovo
As the crisis in Kosovo has worsened in recent months, the U.S.
Government has devoted more attention and resources to help protect and
assist a large population of internally displaced persons and refugees
throughout the region. In this interview, Julia V. Taft, Assistant
Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, answers
questions about U.S. Government humanitarian assistance and concerns in
Mrs. Taft's Bureau, PRM, has primary responsibility within the U.S.
Government for formulating policies on population, refugees, and
migration, and for administering U.S. refugee assistance and admissions
programs. PRM administers and monitors U.S. contributions to
multilateral organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to
protect and assist refugees abroad.
QUESTION: We know the U.S. plays a major role in NATO, which could carry
out armed attacks against Serbian forces in Kosovo. Yet what has the
U.S. done to help the people in Kosovo who have been displaced or
otherwise affected by hostilities?
MRS. TAFT: Since the crisis began in February, the U.S. Government,
including the State Department, Department of Defense, and the U.S.
Agency for International Development, has committed more than $58
million in financial and material support to relief agencies providing
humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict in Kosovo. Much of
this assistance has been provided since the crisis widened in the last
few months. For instance, on September 9 President Clinton authorized
$20 million in emergency funds to aid refugees and displaced persons in
U.S. Government humanitarian assistance includes direct financial
contributions, commodities, and equipment, which have been provided to
international and non-governmental organizations working to help
conflict victims within the province and those who have fled across
QUESTION: How many people are in need of assistance? What are the
MRS. TAFT: We estimate there are at least 250,000 internally displaced
persons (IDPs) in Kosovo. Of these, at least 50,000, and perhaps up to
100,000, are literally without adequate shelter, living on the hillsides
and in the forests of Kosovo. These victims are the most vulnerable
because, as winter weather descends, they face exposure to the elements
and disease. Unless they can return to their homes, or otherwise be
provided adequate food, shelter, and safety, we fear many may die.
Elsewhere in the region, we estimate there are 44,000 IDPs in
Montenegro, 17,000-20,000 refugees in Albania, and 8,000-10,000 refugees
in Bosnia. By and large, these people are not in imminent danger, and
they are receiving adequate assistance from the Office of the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees and relief agencies.
QUESTION: What kind of assistance are relief agencies providing in
MRS. TAFT: Typically, our financial contributions enable relief agencies
to purchase food, clothing, medicine, and shelter material--basic
materials yet all vital to the well-being of people who have been forced
to flee their homes. We have used the $20 million in emergency funds
authorized by the President to support the activities of UNHCR, the
United Nations Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, and
several NGOs, the International Rescue Committee, World Vision Relief
and Development, Child Advocacy International, and International Medical
These funds, among other things, will enable relief organizations to buy
medical supplies and carry out immunizations; provide shelter material--
plastic sheeting, wood sheets, strips, hammers, nails, tape--for tens of
thousands of IDPs and returnees; provide short-term rations for IDPs;
and provide immediate, on-site emergency and preventive child health
care for returning children.
One need we are responding to is to help feed Kosovar Albanians and
Montenegrins who have housed displaced persons. Besides sharing their
homes, they've shared their food. Yet food--especially in Kosovo--is
difficult to come by in light of operations of the Serb forces and an
informal blockade of commercial food deliveries.
QUESTION: Will the efforts you described be sufficient to avert a
humanitarian disaster in Kosovo?
MRS. TAFT: They would be if the security situation were to improve.
People won't return to their homes while they are terrified. Until there
is a complete cease-fire, and President Milosevic completely withdraws
the military and Interior Ministry forces that have repressed and
persecuted innocent non-combatants, frightened people will hesitate to
return home, where they would have shelter and be more accessible to aid
agencies. Moreover, Serb authorities must allow relief organizations and
supplies free and unimpeded access in Kosovo. This point is specifically
cited in Resolution 1199, which the UN Security Council adopted on
Serb road-check points, police harassment, and police movements have
hindered the work of relief agencies, and land mines on roads have
slowed delivery of humanitarian materials. The brutal slaying of three
local aid workers in August underscored how dangerous the environment
is, even for those who are doing humanitarian work. In at least one
recent instance, relief workers also were killed and injured by a mine.
In addition, numerous administrative obstacles have hindered aid
distribution. Relief agencies have faced unnecessary delays in getting
visas from the Serb authorities for humanitarian workers to enter
Kosovo. And clearance of equipment and supplies through customs needs to
occur more speedily.
Without a cease-fire and without access to conflict victims, the threat
of a large-scale humanitarian disaster in Kosovo grows greater each day.
QUESTION: Won't humanitarian relief efforts be halted, or at least
interrupted, if NATO launches armed attacks against Serb forces in
Kosovo? How is this issue being addressed?
MRS. TAFT: We know there will be a decrease of relief work if NATO
attacks prove necessary. We have recommended to NGOs and international
organizations that they ensure their staff are evacuated to safety well
before any military action begins. However, we believe it is necessary
to stop the aggression--through political or military means--to gain
full humanitarian access, as well as end repression of citizens. If we
did not take all means necessary to stop the aggression, we would be
settling for the limited access and regular harassment of humanitarian
workers that has become the norm in Kosovo.
QUESTION: If military force is used, won't civilians, including
internally displaced persons, be caught in the middle?
MRS. TAFT: The object of any NATO military action would be FRY military
targets. Of course, every effort would be made to avoid civilian
casualties. NATO and UNHCR are increasing their communication with each
other, and are keeping one another briefed on the situation. It is an
unfortunate but irrefutable fact that President Milosevic's policies of
attacking his own fellow citizens, on such a large and brutal scale,
have led to the current situation.
QUESTION: Why are you so intent in helping Kosovar Albanians when
Serbia-Montenegro hosts hundreds of thousands of Serbs who fled from
MRS. TAFT: We have always been concerned with Serb refugees and have
supported UNHCR in recent years to help these refugees. On a recent
visit to a Serb refugee camp, I was dismayed by the need for additional
relief, and PRM has provided an additional $6.1 million to UNHCR in
response to an appeal to aid these needy refugees.
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