THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Ramstein Air Base, Germany) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release May 5, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY USAID ADMINISTRATOR BRIAN ATWOOD AND ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POPULATION, REFUGEES AND MIGRATION JULIA TAFT
Ramstein Air Base, Germany
6:33 P.M. (L)
MR. HAMMER: This afternoon we have Brian Atwood, the Administrator for the Agency for International Development; and Julia Taft, Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, Migration and Population at the Department of State. Brian Atwood will be briefing you on the President's meeting he just had with Shining Hope Joint Task Force for the humanitarian relief effort, and give you an overall overview of that. And then both will be available for questions.
MR. ATWOOD: I handle Milosevic's collateral damage. Let that sink in for a while. I'm here with Julia Taft; we have been in meetings all day long with the President. We're about as tired as you are, but we wanted to make sure that you had a little bit of background on the humanitarian refugee situation since it really did dominate a lot of the discussions that the President has had all day long.
He met with Secretary General Solana and with General Wes Clark and General Naumann this morning. To a very large extent, they were talking about the worries that we all have about the situation -- about the people that are displaced inside Kosovo; about the flow of refugees across the border, which threaten to destabilize the neighboring states; about the treatment of the refugees once they get here.
As you know, Shining Path -- Shining Hope -- yes, whoops -- (laughter) --
Q He got your attention.
MR. ATWOOD: That's right. Shining Hope is working with us, with UNHCR, with all of the agencies that are working to try to accommodate these refugees. We're getting a very uneven flow of refugees, but in the last 10 days the average has been somewhere around 10,000. And if we keep getting that kind of average outflow from Kosovo, we're talking about, in the next month, possibly as many as 200,000 more refugees.
We estimate, actually -- NATO estimates, according to General Clark this morning, that there are still some 660,000. I'm not sure that that number is any better than what UNHCR or others estimated. It's in the 700,000 range. I just want to say that collateral damage is too kind a word for what Milosevic is doing to them. His central plan is to use these people as weapons of war. And what he's doing inside Kosovo makes it very difficult for us to plan on the outside for their exit.
What he's doing is moving them around, using them as human shields. He's moving them out of villages and, in some cases, they group and then they're forced to go back to their village. It's clear that these people are being used as part of the tactics of war. It's also clear that they're being used, to some extent, to destabilize the neighboring states, in particular, Macedonia, where there is a great deal of pressure, as you know, on the government. When I was there about 10 days ago, there were 122,000 refugees. Today, there are some 206,000 refugees, and when I was there 10 days ago they were saying they couldn't take any more.
So we're looking at a number of options. We have basically three ways that we can somehow try to relieve this pressure. All of these options were discussed today in the various meetings that the President had. The first option is relocating some of these people in nations that are willing to accept them. As you know, some of the NATO nations agreed to take some 120,000 refugees a few weeks ago, when we had a major crisis on the border in Macedonia. We still have about 85,000 slots for refugees that haven't been filled.
The President tomorrow, when he meets with Chancellor Shroeder, will be commending the Germans for taking 10,000 and agreeing to take 10,000 more. The Italians have today agreed to take 10,000. The United States is in the process of taking the first of its 20,000 -- and Julia Taft can give you more information on that. I believe some 432 arrived in the United States today, and she can answer any questions you might have about how they were selected and who they are, what's the nature of that group.
The relocation aspect of this operation is only going to be a small percentage of it. The other aspect is building new camps. And as you heard from the people at Shining Hope, they're building a camp for 20,000. They have agreed to build another one very soon thereafter for 20,000 more; and they have in the planning stages another camp, for a total of 60,000 that the United States military will be building.
There are now under construction camps that will accommodate another 148,000 refugees in Albania. Some of the refugees will, undoubtedly, be moved from Macedonia to Albania, to relieve some of this pressure.
A very important aspect of this is the third point I would make, which is the host families. There are some 100,000 refugees in Albania in host families, but they're only in about 6 percent of the households of Albania at this juncture. So if we can somehow move that up to 15 percent or so -- and there are many, many households in the southern part of the country, which have not taken refugees -- we feel we could accommodate the outflow that we will have over the next couple of months.
It's important for us to make sure that we offer incentives to people so that they will take in refugees, and that is part of the plan. We are trying very, very hard and the President is very, very concerned about this, to get access to the internally displaced people. There are a number of NGOs that have had access that are able to drive truckloads of food into Kosovo, with the permission of the Serbs.
We're obviously worried about that effort being manipulated to some extent, but we're obviously trying as best we can -- the international community, not the United States -- the international community -- to relieve the problems that those people are facing. They are clearly, when they're coming out now, telling us more stories of hungry people and even people who are dying, usually very vulnerable people, older people.
So the International Red Cross is trying to gain access to Kosovo. They've urged the Serbian government to give them that access. We, of course, believe that they should have that access and we will, of course, do everything we can to encourage others to gain access to the people that are there.
I think that's about all, except to say that tomorrow the President will be meeting with 300 refugees in Ingelheim. These are people that were taken out early on, as part of the 10,000 that the Germans took. They are people who have decided not to move into German homes, primarily because they wanted to stay together as a community so that they can return.
We're finding the same thing true in the people that we're interviewing about the possibility of coming to the United States -- they want to return. In many cases, they've come out with tractors and automobiles and the like, and this is the first time in my memory that we've had to build refugee camps with parking lots -- so that they'll be ready to go home when the time comes. I think there's a great deal of optimism that that time will come sooner, rather than later; although, obviously, no one can predict that.
I'd be happy to answer your questions, as will Julia Taft, who is the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration.
Q What makes you say that, that it will be sooner, rather than later?
MR. ATWOOD: Because I believe in positive self-fulfilling prophesies. I think we did get very good briefings on the military campaign and I think some of General Clark's optimism rubs off on all of us.
Q You said that Milosevic is using these people inside Kosovo as weapons of war. How specific can you get with us in terms of what you're actually seeing?
MR. ATWOOD: You know, there is a lot of concern and we have a lot of concern about what we call collateral damage -- the accidents that are caused by the air war that we're conducting. There haven't been many of them; it's rather remarkable, given the number of sorties. But the purpose of Milosevic in Kosovo is to attack civilians. It's not to attack hard targets or infrastructure or whatever, it's to attack civilians. He's using these people, he's manipulating them. He's moving them out of towns and cities. He's holding them in some areas, surrounding them and not allowing them to move. And then he may just turn around and force them back into their cities, or he may use them along roads, as he has before, to protect his convoys. They're human shields, in essence.
This is a very cynical man. He is clearly trying -- when he puts people on trains and sends them to the Macedonian border, he knows the kinds of problems that he's creating for the international community. We're not going to allow him to defeat us on that front. But he is clearly using these people as weapons of war.
Q If Milosevic would withdraw his troops, let's say, four to six weeks from now -- so at the very least, you're talking about people not being able to go home, number one; and then to rebuild, and by the time that happens so -- you may be optimistic about the air campaign --
MR. ATWOOD: One of the things that we have learned about this exercise is that we should plan for the worst and we're perfectly prepared, if necessary, to winterize these refugee camps.
We are also prepared if, at the drop of a hat, we see an end to this crisis -- and, in fact, General Clark today was asked how long would it take. He said, "I could have troops inside Kosovo within six hours." Now, obviously just the beginning of a force, but within days. So we're not going to be caught by surprise, I think, in the future. We're preparing for the worst, and the worst for us would be to have to handle 1.5 million refugees, one of the largest refugee problems that anyone has ever been faced with. And that is causing us, right now, a great deal of worry.
I can tell you that the international community is going to, at times in the next few weeks, appear to be very disorganized. We're going to be on the verge of a breakdown. Certainly, Julia and I will be, personally. But the fact of the matter is, we're not going to allow this to break us down and we're planning -- we're putting food in place, we've got pipelines established and we're going to use these three alternatives to make sure that we can place these people.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Excuse me, just a minute. I would like to just add one perspective on this. As you know, the conflict in Kosovo really started heating up in March of 1998. And for much of that time, over a quarter of a million people were displaced already in Kosovo, and their homes had been destroyed. We counted about 200 villages that had been severely affected.
The people, once we started getting assistance in to help them at least secure one or two rooms in their destroyed houses, people started going back. They came off the hills last fall before the winter struck, and they started going back to their houses. We would not have thought they were going to live there, but they went back. They're in the same situation.
These people love their land and they want to go back even if it is rubble. It's quite a distinction between Milosevic, who seems to love his land and hate the people, and we think that they will really want to go back. We've been interviewing in the various camps in Macedonia for people who are particularly interested in perhaps coming to the United States in our own resettlement -- our own evacuation effort, and the first choice for everybody is to go back home. So I think we'll see this be a part of their desire throughout their whole time in asylum.
Q Mr. Atwood, in what context did General Clark say "I could have troops within Kosovo within six hours"?
MR. ATWOOD: The President said, look, we can't be caught here if, in fact, Milosevic were to capitulate tomorrow; could we move, would we be able to take advantage of the situation. That's the context.
Q So it was not in the absence of some agreement with Milosevic?
MR. ATWOOD: No, no. This is in the presence of a surrender.
Q The 400 refugees that are coming into Fort Dix tonight, how long is the transition period there, do you expect, and are there families already designated for them to go to, and are they in certain communities in the United States? Do you have any of that information?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: Let me give you the statistics. It's 453 were on the plane today, including 96 children, and they -- what time is it -- they will arrive at Fort Dix at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon. We expect that they'll be in Fort Dix about two to three weeks. And during the time that they're in Fort Dix, they will be getting their medical examination so that no one is processed out to resettlement that's ill. They will be getting their assignment for sponsorship.
Now, we have a system in the United States where we have nine agencies that have national networks -- they're church networks and other resettlement networks, and they have been on contract to the United States for decades. We use them for the sponsorship of every refugee we bring into the country. And they will be the ones that will be identifying families and locations for these people to come in.
We do not at this time think there are any family reunifications in this first plane. We're having another plane on Friday with vulnerable people such as these. On Saturday, there will be a flight that goes into JFK, which is family reunification. And then we plan another couple of planes next week. But the ones that are here that are going to arrive at Fort Dix directly will have to be matched up with sponsors and then they will be taken to other parts of the country.
Q And are there any particular communities in the United States that you're targeting to send them to?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY TAFT: I assume we will be targeting in the communities that have been most forthcoming in wanting to be of assistance. And I must say, there's an overwhelming supply of sponsors throughout the country. But probably the Eastern Coast and the Midwest and probably California will be the largest concentrations because of the existing Albanian American community.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 6:53 P.M. (L)