Annan defends U.N. refugee aid, says agency 'overwhelmed'
May 7, 1999
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday urged nations outside the Balkans to take in more Kosovo Albanian refugees to relieve the pressure on countries neighboring Yugoslavia.
"We have had offers, but they are not enough. And even the offers we have had, they are not moving (refugees) out fast enough," Annan told CNN's World Report Conference on Friday.
The overwhelming flow of refugees into the Balkan states prompted Macedonia to close its border with Yugoslavia on Wednesday. Macedonian authorities blame Western nations for allowing more than a quarter of a million people to flood the nation.
Only people with Macedonian passports or travel papers were allowed across at Blace, about 12 miles northwest of the capital, Skopje.
Annan bristled at criticism that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was caught unprepared by the scale of the ethnic Albanian exodus from Kosovo. But he admitted, "We were overwhelmed by the numbers."
As he spoke, the Netherlands said on Friday it would double its intake of ethnic Albanian refugees to about 4,000 and give Macedonia a further $5 million in aid.
A total of 2,024 refugees have already been accommodated in camps until they can be relocated in cities across the Netherlands in the coming weeks. Army barracks in the southern city of Arnhem are being prepared to take the next group of 1,000.
More than 800,000 people have fled Kosovo, a Serbian province where refugees say Yugoslav troops have conducted a campaign of terror and depopulation against civilians.
"It wasn't only UNHCR that was caught unprepared," Annan said. "I don't think anyone could have foreseen the rapid and sudden expulsion of an entire population."
In Albania, Ray Wilkinson, the UNHCR spokesman at Kukes, said the relief agency was running short of cash for its Kosovo- related operations. Albania has had about 405,000 refugees come across its border from neighboring Kosovo.
Wilkinson said the agency asked for $143 million from donor nations for the Kosovo crisis and had received $77 million so far. All but $1 million of that has been spent, at a rate of more than $1.5 million a day.
The secretary-general said he will meet with the heads of all U.N. humanitarian agencies next week in Geneva to develop plans to better deal with the Balkan refugee crisis. And he pointed to the United Nations' record of dealing with other humanitarian crises in an effort to balance some of the criticism that has been leveled at U.N. staff.
"We have made mistakes, but give us credit where we have done well," he said.
Many of the refugees who leave Kosovo bring tales of atrocities committed against ethnic Albanian civilians. NATO has said refugees' stories and aerial photographs support claims of mass killings and widespread destruction of ethnic Albanian settlements.
Due to a lack of firsthand evidence, Annan said he is not prepared to use the word "genocide" to describe what was going on in Kosovo. But he said the stories are "very worrying and may lead to that direction."
Annan calls for U.N. to lead peacemaking efforts
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