Kosovo & Macedonia – Emergency Intervention – 1999 to 2000

by gerhard gross

Dennis McNamara, UNHCR’s special envoy in the region and Kofi Annan’s deputy special representative in charge of humanitarian affairs in UNMIK, said since day one of the crisis, it had been a constant race against time for aid agencies; first to help the fleeing refugees find sanctuary, then to help them return home and currently to help them survive the next Balkan winter.

Werner Schellenberg was in this period consultant to UNHCR Kosovo & Macedonia was Chief of Technical Unit and focal point for UNHCR’s technical support services for shelter, water, sanitation emergency interventions for war damaged homes , for  temporary community shelter places in the pre -and post war phases in Kosovo and in the war phase for refugee camps in Macedonia.

On 9 June 1999, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia government accepted a peace plan that envisaged the withdrawal of Serb armed forces, the free and unimpeded return of refugees and IDPs, the establishment of a United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in charge of civilian administration and the deployment of a NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). Shortly thereafter, hundreds of thousands of refugees who had fled to the neighbouring countries, started flooding back, some spontaneously, others with UNHCR’s assistance. The initial rehabilitation of the war-torn province proved to be another huge logistical challenge given the level of destruction and the need to provide at least dry accommodation for the returnees before the onset of winter, but the challenge was successfully met by UNHCR, the EC and USAID in a spirit of inter-agency cooperation.

Werner Schellenberg organised a survey of images from U.S. sources, taken from high-flying reconnaissance aircraft. The survey showed more than 67,000 buildings out of 271,314 had been damaged or destroyed.

Source: German CL 289 Drone Imagery *)

To meet the approaching threat of winter Werner Schellenberg conceived of shelter kits which included plastic sheeting, timber and tools allowing families to weatherproof at least one room in a destroyed house before bad weather would descend in November and December. UNHCR and European and American government agencies rushed 56,000 of those kits to Kosovo within a few weeks. These kits had to be distributed to the whole of Kosovo in very short time. In order for this logistical tour de force to work, the commander of KFOR awarded Schellenberg a high military rank, which gave him access to KFOR equipment and personnel for this operation.

We will meet Schellenberg’s appreciation of aerial photography again in his work for Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi 2014 – 2020.

* For more information on German CL 289 Drone Imagery see: https://fas.org/irp/imint/d_bilder_990420.htm