WASHINGTON (April 7, 1999) -- The Kosovar refugee crisis, the largest since the end of the Second World War, requires the United States and the international community to develop immediate and long-term strategies, said the Chairman of the Bishops' Migration Committee in a statement released today.
"Close to one-half million Kosovars have been driven from their homes in recent days by Serbian forces, creating a crisis which threatens to undermine the stability of the surrounding region and puts at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent persons," said Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio, Auxiliary Bishop of Newark (NJ).
Bishop DiMarzio outlined four criteria for alleviating the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the Balkans.
- Safety of the refugees must be ensured. The United States and its allies should immediately ensure that refugees are protected and provided with a secure environment with basic necessities. He said the large number of refugees on or near the border of Kosovo should be allowed to cross to relative safety.
- Temporary measures should be taken. "The international community must find temporary locations for the Kosovar refugees which allow them to live in dignity until they are able to return to their homes," Bishop DiMarzio said. While applauding the U.S. government's acceptance of 20,000 refugees for temporary relocation, Bishop DiMarzio expressed concern about the possible choice of Guam or Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba. "The ability of Guam to handle a large number of refugees in the appropriate manner is questionable, and the conditions at Guantanamo for handling refugees have been inadequate in the past," he said. The "prison-like conditions" at Guantanamo could exacerbate the refugees' suffering. He suggested that locations closer to Kosovo, "such as military bases in Europe," be considered. He also urged that families, and if possible whole villages, be relocated together for support and security.
- Respect for the right to return. "Any interim or final settlement to this conflict needs to respect the right of refugees to return to Kosovo," Bishop DiMarzio said, and every effort should be made to achieve that objective.
- Plans should be made for long-term durable solutions. The most desirable resolution to the current crisis would be the return of Kosovar refugees to their homes in Kosovo, according to Bishop DiMarzio, but the international community should have contingency plans in place should that not ultimately be possible. "Resettlement opportunities should be identified within the region," he said. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees should also begin to develop criteria for resettlement in other areas, especially for those "so traumatized from their experiences that they will never be able to return and live normal lives."