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Trip Reports

Tirana, Albania December 1998 Trip Report

          A delegation representing the Kosovo Refugee Information System and Network (KRISYS NET) from Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology visited to Tirana, Albania from December 15 until December 18, 1998. That delegation consisted of C-K Associate Dean, Harold Krent, Director of Institutional Projects, IV Ashton, and IIT-undergraduate student, Lwin Maung.

Executive Summary

          Our initial goal was to establish the KRISYS NET computer network in the Tirana office of the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute (OSI). Before we left on the trip, we designed and developed the network in Chicago, then transported and installed it in Tirana. 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.
          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. We also arranged for Ilir Zenku from the Soros Foundation to assist us in maintaining our network.
          Our third goal 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 the refugees by various international organizations. As discussed below, our KRISYS NET team met with the Albanian Office of Refugees, the agency responsible for registering and providing assistance to refugees in Albania. Together, we 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 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region, as it provides a centralized mechanism to collect and to disseminate critical information to international relief organizations.
          While in Tirana, we 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.

Report of meetings

          Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
          Metting with Timothy Isles, Deputy Head of Presence and Bengt Holmen, Operation Officer

          We were briefed both on the function of OSCE and on the current situation for refugees in Albania. The OSCE viewed its role primarily to monitor the border and to track refugees. Their best guess is that there are now 20,000 refugees within Albania's borders. Tracking refugees, however, has been a nightmare. They suggested several reasons. First, unlike with other refugee situations, the refugees are dispersed across the country -- some in the cities, some with relatives in the countryside, and some in refugee centers. Compounding the problem was the relative mobility of this group. Refugees within a two-month period might travel from a center to stay with relatives in another city, and then travel to a city in search of work, or more problematically, in search of additional refugee handouts. Registration cards are easy to forge and one refugee group is unaware of what another has given to the same family because the groups have divided responsibilities into geographic areas. One final difficulty lies in the fact that in the North of Albania, it is very difficult for any relief to make it there intact. So, to reach a place like Kukes, aid groups must travel in convoy or be threatened with hijacking. In terms of a wish list, OSCE suggested if we could improve the registration system, then the waste -- of up to 33 per cent of food and clothing supplies -- could be limited. He advised that we should pursue our two goals -- 1) improving the registration system and creating a centralized database -- as expeditiously as possible.
          At the OSCE we were also briefed on the communication system within Albania. There was a better information structure than we expected replete with VHF and HF frequencies, refugee groups and OSCE could communicate by set fax and set phone without much difficulty. Finally, we were advised to contact the Red Cross, the CRS, the World Food Program, the Office of Albanian Refugees, and the UNHCR.

         Meeting with Scott Carlson, head of ACCAPP
          Our second meeting at the OSCE concerned their efforts in support of the new Constitution just approved by Albania's electorate, albeit with large abstentions from Berisha's party. OSCE had been extremely active in communicating the message about the new Constitution to villages and towns to encourage widespread participation throughout the country. Scott Carlson, with whom we talked, was extremely positive about the steps the country's leaders took, and rued the fact that the opposition party had not supported the process. We received a memo sketching the steps that the government followed prior to promulgation of the Constitution, and that memo bolsters Carlson's contentions. On a minimum budget, and more importantly with limited democratic traditions, the Constitution did evolve with relatively widespread input and changes were made up until the vote. Moreover, Scott has been collecting information from the Constitutional Court as it starts its new life. The information superstructure is such that there is no official reporting system and decisions of the courts are hard to find. He suggested that, when we meet with the World Bank, that we ask about their efforts to support growth of the Albanian judicial system.

            World Bank
          Madalene O'Donnell, Consultant

          We met the next day with Madalene O'Donnell from the World Bank. The World Bank has made a one million dollar grant to help the health, education, and water systems throughout the country. They do not address refugee plans directly, but agreed that our aspiration to help rationalize the process seemed sound. She worried somewhat about security concerns because she did not think that the Office of Albanian Refugees would necessarily wish to permit unbridled access to a database by all NGOs. She was very excited, however, about our discussion of Project Bosnia and related that discussions in the World Bank were now underway to help improve the court system in Albania. We suggested that we could be helpful in three ways: By creating Intranets to link government officials more closely together; by linking courts together to facilitate communication; and/or by creating a net based information system to make legal information more readily attainable to lawyers, judges and citizens alike. She suggested that we contact her again and perhaps arrange a meeting with World Bank officials in D.C. She thought that we should or could be a part of whatever they do in Albania.

          United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR)
          Tham Meechubot, Head of the Liason Office

          We met with Tham Meechubot who headed the UNHCR office in Tirana, which is in charge of directing all refugee matters. Unlike the others with whom we spoke, he saw no need for improved information technology, and said he was so swimming in information he couldn't process it now. In addition, he said that, even if refugee info were centralized, it might be difficult to share it with other NGOs. He said that he would cooperate with us if directed to do so by headquarters in Geneva.
          While Mr. Meechubot was for the most part unhelpful, it is worth noting that in later correspondence, he was supportive of our efforts and said that he would express his support to other NGOs.

          Albanian Office of Refugees (AOR)
          Enton Lita, Director

          The Albanian Office of Refugees is responsible for registering and tracking all refugees entering Albania. It is not surprising that the AOR's job has become rather difficult given the problems in Kosovo, especially given undistinguishable physical attributes between Kosovar-Albanians and Albanians. While two registration programs have been attempted, both have fallen victim to fraud and the forces of the black market.
          We met with Enton Lita, the director of AOR to discuss ways for us to use our Internet server and database to assist in his production of refugee identification cards. We agreed on a system that involves his office creating refugee identification cards by typing a form into computer, which in turn prints the relevant information on the ID card and assigns an identification number to the refugee. That information is then entered into our database. Refugee organizations require the refugee ID card before they distribute supplies and can then track needs and the location of the refugees. That information will be reported back to the AOR.

          Soros Foundation, Open Society Institute
          Ilir Zenku,

          We met with Ilir Zenku, the director of the Open Internet Center at the Soros Foundation. He is very impressive and seems to have a wealth of technical knowledge. We agreed that our server would be located at the Open Internet Center and connected to the World Wide Web through Soros' Internet connection. He and his assistant helped Lwin set up the server and get it connected. We also installed the necessary software. The server is currently online at krisys.soros.al (or at 193.220.68.37). Lwin installed Microsoft Office 97, Frontpage 98, War-FTP ver 1.64, PC Anywhere Version 8 as well as Microsoft Internet Information Server II ver. 4.0. The logins and passwords for the programs as well as administrator access to the system are attached in appendix II. Lwin also made an account for SOROS Albania so that if the server goes down, the SOROS technical assistant can reboot it.
          Ilir informed us that SOROS has capabilities to use UHF/VHF to setup a computer network. If we use computer network using radio communication however, we can only get up to maximum of 9600bps. He also told us that there is a 90% automated telephone lines in Albania so we may even be able to use phones as a mean of communication for our network.
          We arranged for Ilir (and/or one of his assistants) to work for KRISYS NET. We agreed that he would maintain the server as well as help us keep our database current. Ilir, however, is leaving Albania in April to get married and in June he is moving to Chicago. We discussed him working for the University when he gets here.

          Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
          Chuck Juhn, Project Manager

          In what was probably the most enlightening and encouraging meeting, we met with Chuck Juhn, the program manager at CRS. Chuck had already developed a preliminary database, which he gladly showed to us. His database was well-developed and included refugee's personal information and relief distribution patterns. This helped us formulate an idea of what relief organizations wanted for the Refugee ID cards and refugee information forms. From those discussions, Lwin designed and developed an ID/information collection database.
          One interesting, and disturbing, thing that Chuck told was that the local Albanians are as poor (if not poorer) than the Kosovar refugees and that they are making fake IDs to obtain relief supplies. In some cases, the refugees have duplicated IDs and are getting multiple quota of food. In one instance, the distributed population was twice as large as the actual number listed on the official distribution list.
          Chuck agreed to let us use him as a guinea pig. He will take the assigned AOR refugee number and monitor the relief that is given in a particular area. He will then input that data into our database. This will help us better develop the way we collect and organize data. Our initial hypothesis is that we will have to change the data collection forms.

          International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
          Ola Kristian Hegge, Relief Co-ordinator Delegate
          Gorkhmaz Husseynov, Relief/Logistics Delegate

          Our final meeting was with the IFRC. They only have three people in the office in Tirana and four people in the field. As such, it is very important for them to know how much food and supplies to send, and where to send it. They agreed that automating their system would greatly improve their efficiency. They agreed that they would monitor the refugees by the official AOR number and would input the data into our database. However, we most likely will have to get some people from Soros to help them input the data.

Appendix II

Server Information/Software Information

          Server: Pentium II 450 with 512k L2 Cache with 64 MB RAM, CDROM, 6.4 GB HDD, Zip drive, ethernet card, no modem.

          Mornitor: Toshiba Flat Screen 15" autoswitching voltage supply with speakers and microphone.

          Software Installed on KRISYS-NET: MS Office 97, Windows NT server (5 Seat), War-FTP server version 1.64, MS IIS2 Version 4, PC-Anywhere version 8.0, MS Frontpage 98 and Frontpage server extensions.

Server IP and needed informations:

www address : krisys.soros.al

IP: 193.220.68.73 

 

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