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June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6

Kosovar Refugees

As of early May, some 750,000 Kosovars had fled Kosovo, with 425,000 moving to Albania and 250,000 moving to Macedonia. Macedonia urged NATO governments to move Kosovars out of the country; most of the Kosovars flown to NATO member countries were from Macedonia.

There were reports that smugglers operated openly in the refugee camps, offering to smuggle Kosovars to Western European countries, principally Germany. Albanian smugglers based in Vlore make an estimated 10 trips with 40 or more migrants to Italy every night. Kosovars usually receive asylum if they make it to Italy, which is 45 miles from Vlore across the Strait of Otranto. In some cases, relatives in Western Europe wire money to those in refugee camps to buy passage out of Albania.

About 30,000 Kosovars were airlifted from Macedonia by the end of May, including 13,000 to Germany and 5,000 to the US. There was considerable confusion, as Kosovars signed up for resettlement in preferred countries, and tried to guess at what factors might better their chances of acceptance. For example, it was widely rumored that the US preferred intact families, so some Kosovars "adopted" children in order to improve their chances of selection. Four Kosovars were briefly jailed when the INS discovered they had misled officials in Macedonia about their family situation in order to get into the US.

The Kosovars arriving in Germany were given three-month renewable TPS status; they cannot apply for asylum.

In Albania, over half of the Kosovar refugees were sheltered in private homes; many of the others moved into 125 tent camps, whose quality varied from donor to donor. For example, the tent camps erected by the United Arab Emirates had electricity in every tent, while other tent camps did not.

UNHCR reported that almost 9,000 nationals of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, mostly Kosovars, applied for asylum in Europe in March 1999; about 2,700 of the Kosovars applied for asylum in Germany, followed by 2,300 who applied in Switzerland.

In 1998, 369,000 foreigners requested asylum in Europe, including 98,700 in Germany; 58,900 in the UK; 45,200 in the Netherlands; 41,200 in Switzerland; and about 22,000 each in France and Belgium--these six countries received about 80 percent of the asylum applications filed in Europe in 1998. Italy announced on May 1 that it would take in 10,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovars who are currently in Macedonia. The first 5,000 to arrive in Italy will be housed at a former military base in Comiso, near Ragusa in southern Sicily. A total of more than 9,000 Kosovar refugees, including 5,696 in April, and another 4,800 illegal immigrants have reached Italy since the beginning of 1999.

Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, a country of 10 million, has seen its per capita GDP fall sharply in the 1990s as a result of economic sanctions and the bombing campaign that began in March 1999. In 1989, Yugoslavia's per capita GDP was estimated to be $3,000. It fell to $1,650 in 1997, and is expected to fall below $1,000 in 1999. Unemployment was 900,000 in March 1999 and is expected to reach 1.5 million by June 1999.

Diana Jean Schemo, "INS Releases Jailed Refugees and Will Let Them Stay in US," New York Times, May 18, 1999. Alison Little, "UK may take 1,000 refugees per week from Balkans," Press Association, May 4, 1999. Patrick Wintour, "War in the Balkans: the refugee crisis," The Observer, May 2, 1999. For more information from UNHCR: