Less than four months after the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a major human tragedy continues to unfold near the heart of Europe.
Against a complex background of deeply rooted ethnic rivalries, deliberately exacerbated by the manipulation of nationalist forces, well over 1 million Kosovar ethnic Albanians have been stripped of their possessions and identity papers and driven from their homes at gunpoint. Of this number, over 600,000 have fled across borders to neighboring Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the Yugoslav Republic of Montenegro in the last month.
This forced displacement is the direct result of a long-standing pattern of intimidation within the framework of a program of ethnic cleansing. The purpose of this campaign of persecution is to erase an entire population from the face of the map and is seen by many as one of the most deplorable episodes in modern European history.
As is clear from the images of suffering conveyed by television and in the press, 80 percent of the refugees streaming across the borders are women, children and the elderly. The fate of Albanian men and boys who have remained behind is the subject of mounting concern. Of those fortunate enough to have survived and escaped, many are wounded. Many more are hungry, exhausted and suffering from exposure.
While neighboring countries have been generous within their limited means, the scale and suddenness of the refugee crisis has placed considerable strain on the countries immediately affected as well as on the international relief effort mobilized to assist these refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the lead agency tasked with the responsibility of coordinating the international relief operation to aid refugees in countries to which they have fled. This responsibility involves guaranteeing effective protection and the provision of emergency assistance. In its capacity as lead agency, UNHCR defines priorities and coordinates the humanitarian activities of other U.N. agencies and over 100 local and international NGOs, as well as NATO’s contribution to the humanitarian relief operation, including the ongoing airlift of emergency supplies destined for countries hosting these refugees.
With the refugee crisis continuing and no resolution in sight, this catastrophe will not be resolved quickly. UNHCR faces a number of daunting challenges with limited staff resources. It must register refugees arriving at the border, attempt to reunite separated families and convince governments to keep those borders open. UNHCR must also guard against involuntary movements of refugee populations from one location to another within directly affected neighboring asylum countries, as well as coordinate evacuations out of those countries when justified, preferably to other European countries, to facilitate the refugees’ eventual repatriation to Kosovo when conditions permit.
UNHCR must also provide basic food, shelter and medicines and other supplies to a swelling camp population. With regard to emergency supplies, UNHCR desperately needs baby food, diapers, tents, sleeping mats, blankets, medical supplies and other essential materials. In the spirit of global solidarity, the government of Japan has already contributed generously to the relief effort. As a necessary complement to this valuable government assistance, UNHCR needs help from the people of Japan. As the refugee crisis mounts, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, has pledged that UNHCR will do its utmost, but we need additional support, and we need it now.
How you can help:
Cash contributions are urgently needed for emergency relief items such as shelter, food, medical supplies and sanitation equipment. Send your contribution for Kosovo via the UNHCR Regional Office in Tokyo:
Postal account no. 00190-8-8870 Account name: UNHCR Remarks: Please write “Kosovo” in the space provided (“tsuushin-ran”) on the remittance form.
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