THE UNITED Nations Commission for Refugees this week finalised plans to house more than half a million Kosovan refugees in Albania this winter.
Despite growing reports that Nato is preparing to send ground forces into Kosovo, UNHCR believes the refugees are unlikely to be able to return home this year. Instead it is calculating that the number of refugees in Albania will grow from 440,000 to 550,000 by September.
UNHCR infrastructure co-ordinator Muhamed Mukalled confirmed that around 80,000 refugees would be housed in portable prefabricated units. These will be capable of being transported to Kosovo on flat-bed trailers once Serb forces have withdrawn.
Potential sites for the prefabricated villages have still to be chosen. But Mukalled said they would be located on a mixture of the existing tented camp sites, which already have infrastructure like water supplies and electricity, and completely new sites away from the Kosovan border.
A plan to house refugees in portable prefabricated units from Kobe in Japan was put forward by consultant Brown & Root last week (NCE last week). But a spokesman declined to comment on whether it was favourite to win the contract to provide the units.
Mukalled said hundreds more disused factories, warehouses and public buildings would also be refurbished and upgraded to boost the number of refugees in so-called 'collective centres'.
Other refugees, already staying with Albanian host families, would be expected to stay where they were.
The £145M plan will be overseen by a specialised management cell in the Albanian government-led Emergency Management Group. As NCE went to press the plan was expected to be presented to a meeting of UN officials and international donor countries in Geneva.
(See feature page 16)