The refugee situation
Interview with Jim Lehrier, april 28, 1999
Transcrição de entrevista de Sergio Vieira de Mello para Jim Lehrer do Newshour sobre situação dos refugiados em Kosovo em 28 de abril de 1999
Fonte: News Hour [www.pbs.org/newshour]
The U.N. reports that the refugee situation outside of Kosovo is “out of control” and close to the breaking point. Jim Lehrer gets the details from Sergio Viera De Mello, the U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. He is also the U.N. emergency relief coordinator.
JIM LEHRER: The refugee story, and to Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. He also serves as emergency relief coordinator for the U.N. Mr. Vieira de Mello, welcome, sir.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO, Undersecretary-General, United Nations: Good evening. Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Your officials in Macedonia have described the refugee situation there as being out of control, near the breaking point. What’s going on there now, sir?
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, as you know, the new arrivals, the new waves that have arrived in recent days, in recent hours have put additional strain, additional burden the reception capacity on the one hand, as well as on the ability of the Macedonian government, and I should say the same about Albania, to cope with the magnitude of the problem. And the figures are staggering. The suffering is immense. People arriving in recent waves are in much worse conditions than was the case in previous days and weeks, no doubt because they’ve been hiding and on the move for quite sometime –malnourished – in very bad physical and mental conditions. And this is the situation. And as you know, overcrowding of camps is also creating a great deal of stress among the refugee population. There is exasperation. The situation is indeed dramatic.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s take each one of these points one at a time. What has caused this new influx, as far as you know? There was 4,000 — talking about Macedonia, in particular, — 4,000 yesterday, another 3,000 today. Do you have any idea as to what’s caused this?
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, you know, there have been ups and downs. It is very difficult to say why there are large numbers arriving one day and very few the next day. The problem is that the pattern is there. They have been arriving in large numbers over weeks now. It is difficult to explain why 5,000 yesterday or less today. Another development today that you may be aware is that seven of them have died over a land mine that exploded as they were trying to cross the border. So you can see, they are threatened from all sides. And we must keep those borders open.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the Macedonia — you’ve had some problems with the Macedonian government, have you not, as to what to do with these people. There was great tension yesterday. Has that been alleviated, the conflict between what you want to do with these folks and what the Macedonian government wants to do with them?
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, the Macedonian government, as you know, has immense difficulties, which we must appreciate, we must understand. The burden on them is not just economic and social, it is also political. The presence of large numbers of Kosovar Albanians on Macedonian territory is a threat to the stability of that country. We must keep that in mind. Other countries have been under similar threats in the past, and the international community has helped them to face the threat. In this particular instance, as you know, an appeal was made by UNHCR for as many as possible to be given temporary asylum elsewhere so to as to reduce the numbers in Macedonia and help the Macedonian government keep its borders open. This is crucial. More than 20,000 have already left in Macedonia in an airlift to 14 European countries, Turkey and Israel. But many more will have to be transferred, temporarily, I repeat, so as not to support the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo in the days to come if the Macedonian government is to keep its borders open.
JIM LEHRER: Now, did you resolve the conflict with the Macedonian government about the establishment or the expansion of existing camps? You all wanted to do that; they said no. Where does that matter rest at this moment?
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, not yet. To my knowledge, the problem is more complex than that. We must also satisfy the Macedonian government that local families, Macedonian families that have been hosting refugees will also be provided with international assistance. We must increase the number of departures to other countries so that the Macedonian government will agree either to the expansion or to the creation of new transit refugee centers.
JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, as you said, there’s overcrowding. Give us a feel for how overcrowded that situation is.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, overcrowding applies not just to Macedonia, but also to the camps in the Kukes area in Albania and to some extent also in some areas of the Republic of Montenegro, where refugees have been, where IDP’s have also been arriving in large numbers, IDP’s meaning internally displaced persons — tension, social unrest, incidentally also reports of recruitment of young men by the KLA, which is obviously not something that the United Nations can tolerate in civilian refugee camps.
JIM LEHRER: Why not? Why is that a problem?
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Because it is incompatible with the nature, with the civilian nature of refugee camps. Remember our problems in Zaire and in Tanzania with Rwandan and Burundian refugees. Refugee camps are civilian. There must be no military activities and no military recruitment in them. Health problems, sanitation, all of this is increasing the tension in those camps. UNHCR has been trying to move people away from the Kukes area in Albania. The problem is that many of them belong to split families and prefer to remain where they are close to the border in the hope that their relatives will come in subsequent waves. This is quite understandable. Secondly, they’re also worried of leaving behind the few possessions that they managed to bring with them, in particular, vehicles and tractors. And this is causing increasing difficulties, obviously.
JIM LEHRER: It sounds like a nightmare.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, you can say that clearly. I mean, this is not the only emergency humanitarian emergency we’re faced with in the world. And, numerically, there are much worst situations in Africa, in Asia, and we should never forget that. But if you add in the Balkans to this picture the conditions that we presume are horrific of about 700,000 to 800,000 Kosovars who are believed to be displaced inside Kosovo and who need protection and assistance, if you add to that other refugee and other internally displaced problems, which we tend to forget, hundreds of thousands of Bosnians have not yet been able to return no their homes; the majority are Muslims, as you know. We have more than half a million Serb refugees that we don’t talk a lot about from Bosnia and Croatia in Serbia. I mean, the picture is really of an unprecedented complexity. Add to that victims of the war, of the conflict, of the NATO bombings, and the hardship under which the population that Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is living, and you will have a truly nightmarish picture.
Vieira de Mello pull quote
Protecting the rights of the Kosovars.
JIM LEHRER: What is it that your organization needs that you do not have at this moment to do what you can do about the situation in Kosovo — I mean the Kosovo situation in particular?
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: Well, the Kosovo situation in particular and in the Balkans in general, for Kosovo specifically protection for those who remain within Kosovo, and the possibility for them to stay there, the right to remain on their land and to remain in their homes or to return to their homes. This is number one, priority number one. Number two, obviously for those who have crossed international borders, or boundaries like the one between Kosovo and Montenegro, assistance; the response to the appeal that was launched by different humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations that have been doing a very difficult job on the ground has not been as generous as we would have hoped. Only one third of the $600 million that we predict will be needed in 1999 have come forward. We’re encouraged by indications, in particular by President Clinton, whom we heard a moment ago, by the Japanese government and others that additional resources will be forthcoming. But they must come soon. We need that money now. So if you could help us generate and mobilize those resources, I would be extremely grateful.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Mr. Vieira de Mello, thank you very much for being with us.
SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO: I thank you for your interest and support.