Switzerland steps up refugee aid in Kosovo

The Swiss authorities on Friday announced that the distribution of food, medical and other emergency aid in Kosovo would be stepped up in the coming days.

This content was published on June 18, 1999 - 11:57

The Swiss authorities on Friday announced that the distribution of food, medical and other emergency aid in Kosovo would be stepped up in the coming days. The Swiss-based U.N. refugee agency in turn said that an organized return of Kosovo refugees could start within two weeks.

The government’s development agency Deza and the Swiss Disaster Relief Unit told a news conference in the capital Berne that humanitarian aid would primarily be given to those displaced within Kosovo as well as ethnic Albanian refugees returning from neighbouring Macedonia and Albania.

The two aid organisations, which are both linked to the Swiss foreign ministry, said they would mainly provide food, water, medical supplies and shelter.

Switzerland would also help rebuild Kosovo’s war-torn agriculture and support the reconstruction of a credit system, the agencies said.

Much of the emergency supplies will be distributed from Pristina, Skopje, Belgrade and Sofia, where the Swiss organisations had already stocked up humanitarian aid as part of the Focus aid programme, which has been operational for some time. Apart from Switzerland, that programme involves Austria, Greece and Russia.

“Our preparations are much more advanced than those of other organisations,” said Toni Frisch of the Deza agency.

So far, the Swiss government has spent SFr 50 million ($33 million) in aid for the victims of the Kosovo conflict. About SFr 10 million ($6.5) of that aid package went to the Cash for Shelter programme, which provided financial support for thousands of host families giving shelter to about 60,000 Kosovo refugees in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss said Friday that he expected Swiss aid for Kosovo to total about SFr 200 million ($133 million) by the end of the year. Much of the aid would go toward rebuilding the economy and democratic institutions, he said.

The Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency said it expected the organised return of Kosovo refugees to start within about two weeks.

Soren Jessen-Petersen, the assistant U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday that organized returns by bus, truck and possibly by airlift would hopefully get underway soon.

The UNHCR estimates that about two-thirds of Kosovo refugees in Albania will need transport to return home.

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