Policy or Panic? The Flight of Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, March-May 1999

Phase 2: 7 - 23 April

From our analysis of the border records, we estimate that by 7 April approximately 236,000 ethnic Albanians had crossed into Albania via the Morina border, most of whom had come along the corridor between and including the cities of Pec and Djakovica, or from Suva Reka south to Prizren. Immediately after the announced cease-fire at 3:00 a.m. on 7 April, the Yugoslav authorities shut the Morina border point, and the daily number of refugees entering Albania fell from tens of thousands to under two thousand until the border reopened on the morning of 10 April. Approximately 83,000 new refugees entered Albania in the period from 7-23 April - less than one-fourth the rate at which refugees flowed into Albania during Phase 1.23

Map 3. 1: Phase 2, 27 April-23 April
View Map 2.1
Note: Maps open in seperate windows.
Map 3. 2: Refugee flow by municipality, 7 April-23 April
View Map 2.1

NATO bombing and mass killings in Phase 2 were concentrated in the north and east of Kosovo. Pec, Decan, Djakovica, and Prizren all suffered limited bombing, but the real concentrations of air attacks were in Pristina and Urosevac. Mass killings, too, are concentrated in the north-eastern part of the country, particularly in the area from Mitrovica in the north, through Pristina to Lipljan. It is from these areas in northern and central Kosovo that the heaviest refugee flows come during this period.

More than 66,000 people left their homes during Phase 2, of whom 15% did not leave Kosovo until after 23 April (i.e., in Phase 3). Map 3.2 shows the number of people leaving their homes during Phase 2 according to the municipality from which they came. Mitrovica experienced the heaviest flows during this period, followed by its neighbors to the south, Vucitrn and Srbica. The large-scale departures from Mitrovica began on 12-13 April and peaked on 14-15 April at over 5,200 people leaving in this two-day period (see Graph 3.1, below). One man described the mid-April outflow to Human Rights Watch in the following words.

Ö we left Kosovska Mitrovica four days ago [i.e. 16 April]. At about 9 a.m., four or five policemen came to my house and one of them said: ďGet out, go to Albania or America, You knew [that this was going to happen].Ē The police were wearing black camouflage uniforms, had masks, and had automatic guns. They told us we had to leave in a few minutes, otherwise we would be killed. We were told to gather near the mosque of ZhaborŽ, where there were thousands of people. From there we went to Shipol, then to Klina, Pec, [Prizren and then to Morina]. I didnít see anything happening along the road, because our tractor was covered. My son was driving the tractor, and we got stopped, and they pointed a gun at him, and demanded money. But we didnít have any money, only 25 dinars. We were lucky that they didnít kill us.24

Civilian outflow from Mitrovica continued through the end of Phase 2.

Kosovo Polje, Lipljan, and areas south of Pristina also had heavy outmigration flows. However, the sequences of bombing and migration in these areas are essentially unrelated, as shown in Graph 3.1.

Graph 3.1 : Number of Kosovar albanians leaving their homes and bombing patterns, by two-day periods, for four municipalities (Kosovska Mitrovica, Istok, Lipljan, Urosevac)
Graph 3.1

The heaviest flow of people out of any single municipality in Phase 2 originated in Mitrovica, which during this Phase is bombed only on 17 April; note that the NATO attack came after the peak number of departures on 14-15 April. There was substantial refugee flow out of Mitrovica during Phase 1, and there was a small peak in Phase 3. However, most of the people who left Mitrovica did so during Phase 2. Earlier NATO strikes (during Phase 1) and later (during Phase 3) are out-of-sequence with refugee departures in those periods.

Other municipalities in north-central Kosovo suggest similarly disconnected patterns. In Lipljan, the bombings occurred in early April and in early May; during neither period were substantial numbers of people departing. Many people did leave in mid-April, and a NATO airstrike coincided with the two-day period in which the heaviest flow occurred, 17-18 April. Immediately after the NATO attack, refugee departures declined to zero.

Istok is a complicated region. Although it is classified as in the west (and therefore included among the south and west in the proportions in Graph 1.2), Istok is in a transitional area on northern and eastern edge of the south and west region. Appropriately for a transitional area, refugee flow patterns in Istok had similarities to both the patterns of the south and west and to patterns of the north and east. Large numbers of refugees left Istok in each of the three phases, with relatively fewer people leaving at the points between phases. The only reported NATO air attack occurred on 11 April, approximately ten days before the 18-19 April surge when more than 1,300 people left. The largest outflow from Istok occurred weeks after the early-April air attack when on 6-9 May more than 3,000 people departed.

Urosevac is presented to show the refugee pattern in an area of heavy NATO bombing.25 The municipality was hit on six two-day periods during Phase 2. Arguably the bombs hit a few days earlier than the Phase 2 departures, and so they could have been the motivation for the departures. At no point did the number of people departing in any two-day period rise above 500. There had been similarly scaled departures in early April (i.e., a few hundred people per two-day period) when no bombs fell. Thus it is implausible that bombs in mid-April motivated departures when similar numbers of people had left their homes in early April with no equivalent motivation.

The OSCE documented an event in Urosevac that is noteworthy by its uniqueness. About twenty minutes after the Yugoslav army began shelling an area in the municipality in early April,26 NATO hit a Yugoslav Army barracks, killing about a dozen soldiers.27 The survivors were apparently enraged by the bombing and began indiscriminately shooting Kosovar Albanians and escorting them to the train station (apparently for subsequent deportation out of Kosovo).28 This is the only reported event in which a NATO bombing triggered an immediate retaliatory reaction by local Serb forces that led to the forced migration of Kosovar Albanians.

On 14-15 April, more than 16,000 people crossed the border, followed by another 31,000 people on 16-17 April. The flows on these days included approximately 5,000 and 6,000 people, respectively, from the north-central municipalities of Klina and Srbica. Our analysis indicates that most of these people had been in transit for 10-14 days, having left their homes in early April.29 Usually, more than 75% of the refugees entering Albania on any given day had very recently left their homes - within the last day, or at most within the previous week. However, at this time the flow across the border reflected a much earlier process in which people left their homes. The cross-border flow on 16-17 April was somewhat different because it was not the product of recent evictions. Instead, the Phase 2 high-flow point reflects in part the migrantsí delayed access to the border, or delayed willingness to leave Kosovo. The OSCE noted that thousands of internally displaced people had gathered in this area in central Kosovo, and that in mid-April, Yugoslav authorities rounded them up and transported them to Albania.30

Phase 2 ends with a dramatic drop in the total number of Kosovar Albanians leaving their homes and crossing into Albania: the counts for each two-day period dropped below 1,000 on 22-23 April and again on 24-25 April for the first time since Albanian border officials began systematically recording refugee data in late March (see Graph 1.1 for total counts of Kosovar Albanians entering Albania). This low point defines the end of Phase 2.


23 Of the 83,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees who entered Albania during Phase 2, approximately one-third left their homes before 7 April. Return to Text

24 Interview given to HRW, April 1999, Albania. Return to Text

25 HRW Kosovo Flash #35. Return to Text

26 This probably occurred between 10-13 April, according to Yugoslav reports about when NATO air attacks occurred in that area. Return to Text

27 OSCE 6 Dec. 1999, Part 5: chapter on Urosevac. Return to Text

28 OSCE 6 Dec. 1999, Part 5: chapter on Urosevac. Return to Text

29 See Appendix B, the maps from 7-17 April, in the areas between Pec and Glogovac. Return to Text

30 OSCE 6 Dec. 1999, Part 5, Chapter on Srbica. Return to Text


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