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Kosovo Refugee Information System and Network

An Interprofessional Project (IPRO) of
Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Illinois Institute of Technology

          The objective of the Kosovo Refugee Information System and Network ("KRISYS NET") is to develop an Internet-based information infrastructure in Kosovo and Albania to promote better access to information for international relief organizations working to return Kosovar refugees and displaced persons to their homes or to resettle them.
          At the suggestion of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and through the cooperation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Open Society Institute (OSI), KRISYS NET seeks to use information technology to develop comprehensive databases to store relevant information relating to the status of displaced persons and refugees, and the state of areas from which they were displaced, and to which they would like to return. This information will include items such as the status of shelter, security, health, water, sanitation, and education. It will be coordinated through UNHCR in Kosovo and through the Albanian Office of Refugees in Albania. This information will in turn be used by international relief organizations as they work to help Kosovar refugees return safely to their homes. The information contained on the database will be obtained from various agencies, and will in turn, be accessible via an Intranet or in person at UNHCR or OSI. Thus, acting as a "virtual refugee coordination center," this database will enhance the international community’s capability for providing effective assistance to displaced persons in Kosovo and Albania who are seeking to return to their homes.

          The political crisis in Kosovo, the formerly semiautonomous region of Serbia in what remains of Yugoslavia, has created the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts of 1992-95. The 1998 military crackdown by the Yugoslav Government on the Albanian independence movement in Kosovo forced nearly 300,000 Kosovar Albanians from their homes. Many sought refuge across the border in Albania and Montenegro, and significant numbers "internally displaced" –many forced to live outdoors in the mountains and forests within Kosovo.
          The Yugoslav Government and the international community, led by U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, negotiated an agreement in October 1998 which at least temporarily ended the fighting in Kosovo. As part of this agreement, all Kosovar refugees and internally displaced persons are entitled to return to their homes and villages. The Yugoslav Government has agreed not to impede the refugees in exercising their right to return home, and international verifiers are being placed inside the province to ensure compliance, under the direction of the OSCE.
          Consequently, dozens relief agencies in Kosovo and Albania are currently working toward the common goal of returning Kosovar refugees to their homes safely. In order to achieve this goal, however, governmental and non-governmental organizations ("NGOs") need instant access to information concerning the state of affairs of each village, including detailed descriptions of the condition of housing and other infrastructure elements in each village. Additionally, relief agencies must coordinate and exchange specific data with other NGOs regarding the location and the number of refugees who desire to return to their houses. This is especially relevant in Albania whre refugee flow is very fluid and constantly changing.
          With the onset of winter, the refugees face a number of critical issues in deciding whether to return to their homes. Before they can make an informed decision, they need specific information such as the condition of their home, the conditions of local infrastructure -- such as water, sanitation, health and food supplies -- and the security situation in their village or town.

          The success of the international response to the current situation in Kosovo, and ultimately, the safe return of the refugees to their homes or appropriate refuge and resettlement, will in part require careful coordination of information among the relief organizations and displaced persons in Kosovo and Albania. Building on experience gained in previous projects to strengthen the Rule of Law using Internet technology in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland and Macedonia, KRISYS NET—proposes to use information technology to provide technical assistance and support for NGOs and international organizations currently working in Kosovo and Albania. To that end, KRISYS NET began implementation of this refugee repatriation database in Pristina, Kosovo and Tirana, Albania in December 1998. (For more detailed information, "Implementation of Phase One," of this prospectus.)
          Utilizing Internet technology, this project seeks to connect Kosovar relief organizations to a virtual centralized database containing essential information about the status of refugees, their homes, and their villages. Through the coordination of UNHCR and Albanian Office of Refugees (AOR), and with the support of the Open Society Institute (OSI), this database will bring together (1) reports from Kosovo about shelter, security, health, water, sanitation, and education; (2) information about governmental and non-governmental capabilities for assisting refugees; and (3) data from Kosovo and Albania about the location, identity and desired destination of refugees, as well as relief provided to them. It will also provide the opportunity for those seeking asylum or refugee status in other countries to obtain information regarding that process and their rights under appropriate laws.
          The information will be stored on a single virtual database located on two Internet servers, one installed at the UNHCR office in Pristina and the other at the OSI headquarters in Tirana. Utilizing the database, relief organizations will be able to access and disseminate important data through either satellite or terrestrial dial-up telephone lines. Providing remote access to electronic information through this Intranet will in turn, enable NGOs and international organizations to coordinate their efforts effectively.

          The Kosovo Refugee Information System and Network was developed after a meeting between Henry H. Perritt, Jr., Dean of Chicago-Kent College of Law, and UN Ambassador-nominee Richard Holbrooke in the summer of 1998. During that meeting, Ambassador Holbrooke requested that Chicago-Kent build on its expertise from Project Bosnia, which uses information technology to help rebuild the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and apply that knowledge to provide necessary assistance to refugees displaced from their homes as a result of current conflict in Kosovo. (More detailed information about Project Bosnia is annexed to this Prospectus).

          Endorsement by Albanian Ambassador: In June, 1998, Chicago-Kent Assistant Dean Charles Rudnick and two Washington attorneys participating in the project, Stuart P. Ingis, and John M. Scheib, met with Petrit Bushati, Albanian Ambassador to the United States, to obtain his advice and brief him on the project's direction. Ambassador Bushati expressed his support and endorsed the project in writing. He also identified NGO and Albanian government personnel working with refugees from Kosovo, and offered to contact these people on behalf of our project.

          Assessment Trip to Albania: To evaluate the feasibility of the project, and to explore relationships with potential local partners, two IPRO students together with Assistant Dean Rudnick traveled to Albania in mid-July, 1998. During the week-long trip, which included a visit to the Northern Albanian region where a significant number of the refugees are located, the IPRO delegation met with a number of nongovernmental and international organizations, representatives of the Albanian and the United States governments, and telecommunications and technology experts.

          Assessment Trip to Kosovo: Following the Holbrooke-brokered peace agreement, Assistant Dean Rudnick and Director of Institutional Projects IV Ashton traveled to Pristina in October 1998 to explore the possibility for implementing the project in Kosovo as well as in Albania. While there, the delegation had in-depth meetings with UNHCR and other local NGOs and discussed how to implement the project in the most effective manner.

          Based on the information gathered during these assessment trips, as well as significant research conducted into the international legal and policy issues raised by KRISYS NET, Chicago-Kent’s IPRO team has formulated the recommendations contained below for implementing the goals set by KRISYS NET.

          The implementation of KRISYS NET, is scheduled to occur in both Pristina, Kosovo and Tirana, Albania in three distinct phases:

Implementation of Phase One (Week of December 14 to December 20):

          The first phase of KRISYS NET, already completed, involved members from Chicago-Kent and other parts of the Illinois Institute of Technology traveling to Pristina and Tirana to accomplish three specific goals:

          Pristina, Kosovo

  1. The first goal in Pristina was to establish the KRISYS NET computer network in the UNHCR Office. The network was designed and developed by the KRISYS NET delegation in Chicago, then transported and installed in Pristina during the December 1998 trip. At the core of KRISYS NET computer network is a high-end Internet server and an Ethernet hub which acts as the foundation of a larger information network in Kosovo.
  2. The second goal in Pristina was to evaluate options for connecting the database to the Internet, and to explore the need and desire for an Internet connection among the organizations operating in Kosovo. To this end, our delegation had in-depth discussions with officials from UNHCR Pristina and Belgrade, the United States Information Service, the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, the International Rescue Committee, and the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team.  Most organizations strongly supported the idea of sharing information collected about the refugees, and agreed that UNHCR was the ideal organization to act as the central collection point for the information. Some sensitive information may need to be controlled separately by the OSCE and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In fact, the data collection and management effort is already reasonably well organized, with UNHCR having worked with the NGOs to develop a form for the uniform collection of data when the humanitarian crisis was at its worst in the summer of 1998. The primary question to be answered is the manner in which the collected information will be disseminated: it is expected that the database will eventually be accessible through the Internet, both at a mirror site at IIT/Chicago-Kent and locally in Pristina.
  3. The third goal in Pristina was to install the aforementioned database designed by Illinois Institute of Technology on the Internet server. UNHCR and members of the international community have made a decision to use commercial software entitled MapInfo, which portrays data on a map. This software can accept a database indicating the geographic coordinates of villages, shelter locations, or mines and, based on symbols specified by the user. By clicking on a map symbol, the user can retrieve all the data elements associated with that point. Our team helped consider the most effective implementation of this database, its installation in UNHCR, and how it could effectively be connected to the Internet.

          Tirana, Albania

  1. In Tirana, the first goal was to establish the KRISYS NET computer network in the OSI office. The network was designed and developed by the KRISYS NET team in Chicago, then transported and installed in Tirana during the December 1998 trip. At the core of KRISYS NET computer network is a high-end Internet server and an Ethernet hub, which through six external modems, creates an information Intranet in Tirana.
  2. The second goal was to connect an Internet server to the World Wide Web through the OSI offices in Tirana. This was accomplished by using a VSAT 64 kbms satellite connection.
  3. The third goal of the team was to create and install a database with the purpose of tracking critical information about Kosovar refugees in Albania, including relief services that are provided to them by various refugee organizations. The KRISYS NET team met with the Albanian Office of Refugees, the agency responsible for registering and providing assistance to refugees in Albania. Together, they developed a system using the KRISYS NET database and Internet server to assist in AOR's efforts in registering and tracking refugee flows in Albania. This partnership is particularly important to NGOs working in the region as it provides a centralized mechanism to collect and disseminate critical information international relief organizations.

    The delegation also formed partnerships with the Catholic Relief Services, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Initially, these organizations will input data about supplies given to, and locations of, the refugees. Other organizations such as the OSCE, UNHCR, World Food Program, United Nations Development Program, and the International Committee of the Red Cross will then access information in the database, thus enabling them to determine the location of the refugees more accurately and to assess the true needs of the refugees.

Implementation of Phase Two: (January 1999 through May 1999)

          The second phase of KRISYS NET involves modifying the database such that it best satisfies the needs of UNHCR, AOR and the international community. This can be done in a number of ways, but our past experience tells us that we can effectively improve and modify our databases remotely from Chicago so long as the physical equipment (i.e., the server) is connected to the Internet. As this is the most efficient solution, we propose to do a significant amount of the "technical programming" in Chicago.
          This approach also necessitates that we work closely and in person with organizations using the database to develop the best applications for the database. To accomplish this, we propose at least two visits to Kosovo and Albania during the spring of 1999. Each of these trips, which will last approximately seven days, will involve three objectives:

    • The first objective is carefully to evaluate pilot implementation of the system such that we can make necessary adjustments to its design. To do so, we need to get direct feedback from NGOs using the database and get input from those seeking to develop new applications for the database.
    • The second aim of these visits is to train members of the NGO community how to use the network and database properly.
    • The third object is to outfit various NGOs with additional computer equipment in both Pristina and Tirana.
    • A possible fourth purpose for the spring visits is to begin outfitting various NGO personnel in the working in the "field" in Kosovo with the proper computer equipment to access the database remotely. As mentioned earlier, the basic concept is to use laptop computers and satellite technology to access or input data into the server in Pristina remotely. This would give Verification Monitors, as well as relief organizations the ability to obtain information, and to input data about specific conditions of each village. It would also provide a mechanism in which to disseminate essential information to refugees and their families who are either returning or seeking to return to their homes and villages.

Implementation of Phase Three: (March 1999 to December 1999)
          Phase three of the project will build upon the progress made in phase two. Through detailed evaluation process, we propose to continue to modify and improve the database and expand its applications. We also plan to continue outfitting Verification Monitors and relief agency workers whose mandates necessitate their traveling through Kosovo with the proper mobile information and telecommunications technology. Depending upon the funding of this phase, it can be complete by August 1999.
          There is also an additional element to phase three. There can be little doubt that after the first year of our partnership, we will have expanded our knowledge about effective use of information technology to support international relief organizations as they "mobilize" to regions of the world that require their assistance. The regions to which these international organizations mobilize alsmost always lack sophisticated information technology infrastructure.
          To permit its results to be shared more widely, a detailed written assessment of this project must be conducted at the end of the first year. This final analysis will not only support UNHCR’s needs in Kosovo, but it will also be an important guide for how information technology can best support and enhance future missions of UNHCR and the international NGO community.

Why Chicago-Kent and IIT?
          KRISYS NET, an Interprofessional Project of Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology, is in a unique position to facilitate the establishment of a technological infrastructure for the international NGO community in Kosovo. Students and faculty at this leading academic institution have long been at the forefront of technological change and are committed to understanding both the theory and applications of information technology. Members of KRISYS NET are strongly equipped with the knowledge, intellectual resources, and experience to undertake this innovative project.
          Chicago-Kent and the rest of Illinois Institute of Technology have earned an international reputation for providing lawyers, courts, and academics with legal information through technology. Through the creation of such entities like the Global Law and Policy Initiative ("GLAPI"), Project Bosnia, and the Center for Information Law and Policy ("CILP"), as well as its long-standing involvement with the American Bar Association’s Central East European Law Initiative ("CEELI"), Chicago-Kent, in many respects, has led the charge in using information technology to provide assistance to emerging democracies in East and Central Europe. KRISYS NET is simply an extension of these dynamic technology projects.