Refugee Information Systems and Network
Interprofessional Initiative of the
Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Illinois Institute of Technology
Report and Project Summary, June 1999
In an ever-increasing global environment of political change
and democratization, greater numbers of isolated citizens are
becoming displaced from their homes and their livelihoods. In
the past decade alone the world has all too often witnessed the
mass exodus of persons displaced from their homes as a result
of systematic persecution, fueled by political instability. The
international response to these crises has produced thousands
of international relief organizations, providing temporary food,
shelter, and supplies.
Kosovo is the most recent example of how the international community
has combined its collective energy to assist over one million
refugees by providing them with the basic necessities to stay
alive. The effectiveness of the international response on the
aggregate, however, is dependent upon the manner in which all
of the NGOs work together. Operation Kosovo seeks to assist in
A primary goal of KRISYS NET is to create technological solutions
to assist these refugee organizations in streamlining their information
systems (such as registration and data collection). To further
that goal, a delegation from Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois
Institute of Technology traveled to Tirana, Albania during the
week of June 14, 1999. The trip built upon prior achievements
of Operation Kosovo by implementing and field-testing the Central
Refugee Registration System and the War Crimes Documentation Project,
which are described below. The delegation consisted of IV Ashton,
Scott Waguespack, and Steve Collens. Ilir Zenku and Julian Mulla,
who currently live in Albania, met the team in Tirana.
Working in cooperation with the American Bar Associationís Central
and East European Legal Initiative (ABA CEELI), the Soros Foundation,
Samaritanís Purse, the International Rescue Committee, OSCE, and
UNHCR, we were able to register over 150,000 refugees in the central
database and collect 120 accounts of war crimes. We also visited
six refugee camps and interviewed over twenty refugees. In some
cases their interviews were digitally recorded and stored in the
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Upon arriving in Tirana, we met with Paul Meyer from the International
Rescue Committee. Paul is heading up a Refugee Phonebook Project
which was launched while we were in Tirana. The Refugee Phonebook
Project lists 100,000 Kosovar refugees, including where they
were last registered and a phone number where they can be reached.
Paul admits that the project is less than perfect given the
mass movement of the refugees, but it is a good start to identifying
who has left Kosovo and how someone can get in touch with them.
Over 10,000 copies of this phonebook will be distributed along
with 250,000 forms for refugees to add or to "correct"
their contact information. The IRC database can be thought of
as the initial phase of registration, but does not perform other
necessary functions. Indeed, the IRC data is beneficial to the
design of KRYSIS NET.
Additionally, Chuck Jahn has left Catholic Relief Services
and is now working with Paul at IRC. We know Chuck from his
previous work with CRS. Paul and Chuck are leading the efforts
in Albania to use information technology to assist NGOs in the
EMEA Region HQ
92977 Paris La Defense
phone: +33 (1) 4635 1087
The United Nations High Commissioner
phone: +355 (42) 28474, 50206, 50207, 50208, Extension:
Prior to arriving in Albania, we had been working with Frank
Schott at Microsoft. Frank led a team of computer specialists
who designed a registration system to register Kosovar refugees
in Albania for UNHCR. Our first day in Tirana was the day that
Microsoft and UNHCR were field-testing this new registration
system. A team of four data collectors went to one camp to test
the system. We have tried to obtain the fields used for each
data category but have not been successful in getting them.
We met with Besty Greve, a lawyer with UNHCR working on legal
issues relating to registering refugees in Albania. We demonstrated
our KRISYS NET registration system to Betsy and discussed how
our delegation could assist Microsoft and UNHCR field-test their
system. Betsy did not have the authority to let us actually
register refugees, so we talked about legal issues that relate
to privacy concerns of refugee information.
Office of Security and Cooperation of
Kosovo Verification Mission
Senior Human Rights Officer
Phone 355 (0) 38 202-7719
We discussed KRISYS NET with Stephanie Blair and her database
specialist Ian. We explored ways that OSCE could benefit from
using our database. Stephanie and Ian described their mission
as being separate from other OSCE missions in Albania in that
they were the team concerned solely with issues inside of Kosovo.
They were very impressed with the system and I proposed a couple
of ways that the system would help them in their mission to
help rebuild institutions in Kosovo now that there is peace.
The system could be used to assist KFOR gather evidence about
war crimes. It might also be used to help with any Human Rights
and/or Property disputes that arise in the new legal system.
Finally, a system might be developed to assist OSCE in elections
Our delegation visited a number of refugee camps in Albania
to interview refugees about war crimes and human rights abuses.
We inputted the information into the KRISYS NET database.
The Hamallaj refugee camp is 15km north from Durres, Albania
and houses approximately 100,000 Kosovars, mostly transported
from Kukes. The Samaritan Purse Camp (an American organization)
runs the camp. The Abraham Lincoln Foundation provided our transportation
to the camp. The group consisted of IV Ashton, Scott Waguespack,
Steve Collins and our Albanian interpreter, Anilda "Ani" Qemali.
Before we could enter the camp we were required to register
with the camp guards who control entry and exit of all foreign
visitors and Kosovar refugees. We were given visitor passes
and warned not to lose them in case the camp police conducted
spot checks. Upon entry into the camp, children immediately
Green and white UNHCR tents were neatly lined up in rows, each
numbered from A-1 and 1-1 for identification. As we approached
a larger tent, we asked a few men inside if they would be willing
to help us with the registration process and share with us any
accounts of war crimes that they either witnessed or of which
they were victims. They were receptive and we interviewed a
couple of them.
As the first man began to fill out the forms (via Ani's interpretation),
three men walked out, one to continue his work digging a ditch
and the others perhaps to avoid the talking to us.
About halfway through the registration process, a few other
young men entered the tent and listened in and began to ask
questions. Others began to walk into the tent, mostly younger
kids, young women and one or two older men. After we spoke to
two refugees, the young man and the older one, we went further
into the camp, where we meet a journalist. He agreed to be interviewed.
He also agreed to have his testimony of war crimes audio tapped.
Tirana Med-Care Camp
On 16 June, our delegation traveled to the MedCare refugee
camp in the western zone of Tirana. This camp is run by Med
Care, an international NGO and is considered by most to be one
of the less well-run camps. The tents were dark green and housed
one or two families each. Many of the families were actually
supplied with mattresses and water containers. The camp was
set up in the former city recreation area of Tirana, many tents
being erected in an area that used to be a swimming pool.
Our delegation registered refugees and took testimony from
women and men who had been victims in the crisis. We interviewed
one woman who worked as a nurse in the campís makeshift medical
clinic, which is run by Kosovar refugees. She gave us a short
tour of the clinic.
Overall, the refugees were receptive to our delegation, especially
after finding out that we were Americans. A number of refugees
were interviewed and the data was taken back to the SOROS office
in Tirana to be further translated and entered into the database.
Tirana Magic City Greek Camp
On the afternoon of June 16th, the delegation traveled
to "Magic City", a Greek-run camp. The camp was unique in that
the "structures" that the refugees lived in were not
tents, but were actually constructed of tin panel. One to two
families lived in each structure. We conducted a couple of interviews
with men and women. After we had been there for two hours the
camp closed and we had to leave. Of all the camps this was certainly
the most permanently constructed and was most capable of withstanding
the impending early Balkan winter should the refugees be unable
to return to Kosovo. This data that we collected was entered
into the database.
of the Central Refugee Registration System
The Central Refugee Registration System is comprised of two major
components: 1) a centralized database used to register refugees
and to provide relief agencies access to general information about
refugees; and 2) a secondary database system, specifically designed
to collect data about human rights abuses that occurred in Kosovo.
This system is also designed to incorporate additional forms used
by any relief agency to meet its information gathering needs.
Under this system, relief agencies use their laptop computers,
digital cameras, digital audio recorders, and a uniform registration
form to input general information about refugees. At the end of
each day, that information is uploaded to a central database in
Tirana, Albania (mirrored in Chicago), which is accessible by
Additionally, we created and field-tested three secondary data
forms. These customized forms "relate" to the central
database using the refugee ID number as a key. Because the forms
were designed to collect very specific data regarding human rights
abuses in Kosovo, and is highly sensitive, the data is encrypted
and stored in a separate database. At the appropriate time, the
secondary data will be sent to the International War Crimes Tribunal
for the Former Yugoslavia, international human rights groups,
and lawyers representing Kosovar refugees/asylees around the world.
Information (the Central Database)
The Central Refugee Registration Database is designed to be used
by numerous NGOs to collect and store primary (general) information
about refugees. Primary information consists of name, date of
birth, last place of residency, and current location (for more
detailed information see appendix).
Every participating organization will have a registration kit
consisting of a laptop computer, digital camera, digital audio
recorder and eventually an identification card printer. The first
agency to have contact with a refugee inputs the general information
about the refugee and prints a bar coded identification card.
The refugee will present this identification card to every relief
organization with which s/he has contact.
Any agency having subsequent contact with that refugee will simply
enter the refugee ID number (or scan the bar code on the ID card)
to access the general information. They may then gather any additional
(secondary) information that they require (see Section on Secondary
Information). Each additional NGO that has contact with the refugee
will provide an opportunity to modify the general information.
Thereafter, every time the ID card is used, a recorded is created,
tracking the location of the refugee, as well as the type of secondary
information that is collected. Thus, if the Red Cross registers
the refugee and two days later that refugee gives testimony to
an investigator with Amnesty International, a record is created
in the central database noting that the refugee has had contact
with the investigator. This feature has the advantage of informing
organizations with similar missions that additional information
has been gathered. In the end, Amnesty International might enter
into a bilateral agreement with the War Crimes Tribunal to share
information. This system allows them to do that.
Information (Separate Databases)
Relief organizations may create their own forms to collect secondary
information, which will be stored in a separate database on their
own computers. This secondary database from the central database.
Each organization may create a secondary database and determine
the databaseís level of accessibility by other organizations based
on the sensitivity of the information. KRISYS NET created and
implemented three secondary databases, which are listed below.
International War Crimes Tribunal:
The War Crimes Secondary Database was developed to accumulate
a list of refugees who have experienced or witnessed war crimes
in Kosovo. We created a secondary form to collect information
that war crimes prosecutors can use to build their case. Using
this form, a witness is interviewed and his or her testimony is
summarized in English and stored in the database. A digital audio
recorder is also used to capture the interview electronically
(an in Albanian). That recording is stored in the database in
case the war crimes prosecutor wants to get more detailed information.
If it becomes necessary, the prosecutor can then call the witness
to appear in court to testify in a given case.
We also created a secondary form for relief organizations to record
a refugeeís experience of persecution within Kosovo. At some point,
a report will be produced in the form of an affidavit (translated
in English) to be used around the world in legal proceedings by
attorneys representing refugees in asylum cases. Attorneys can
query the database to find other Kosovars similarly situated to
their client and use the affidavit to support their case.
International Human Rights Groups:
Using the other War Crimes and the Refugee secondary forms, we
created a report that will be produced and given to the International
Human Rights Groups as they compile data on country conditions.
Because the form that they would use to input data is simply a
derivation of the other two forms, information can easily be shared
among all three groups.
The following list is the types of secondary
databases that may be created.
Medical: Medical relief
organizations that treat refugees requiring medical attention
may enter sensitive medical information in a confidential secondary
database. Information entered may consist of the refugee's medical
history, diagnoses, treatments, follow up needs and discharge
reports. Treatments may include surgical procedures performed,
medications received and prescribed, and discharge therapies.
Several medical relief organizations have the opportunity to create
a "general medical" secondary database that shares mutually required
medical information about a refugee between themselves.
Supplies: A secondary database
of organizations supplying relief aid to refugees may record the
kind and amount of relief given to each refugee at the time of
distribution. This data will be useful in determining the length
of time since the last distribution and the total period and amount
of aid the refugee has received at any given time. It can also
verify if a refugee has not received the required supplies when
a refugee approaches and requests his allotted distribution.
Tracing and Family Reunification:
Detailed information of refugee origination and subsequent relocations
may be tracked in a secondary database. Information about each
refugeeís family may also be stored. This information may include
both nuclear and extended family members residing in other countries
as well as those still living in the country in which the refugee
Note: After discussions with the Red Cross, we are nearing completion
of a system that not only uses this centralized system to trace
refugees, but also uses the refugees identification number as
an email address. This secure email system is designed to streamline
the ARCís messaging system.
If you wish to learn more about our projects and our trips,
Director of Institutional Projects
Chicago-Kent College of Law
565 West Adams Street, Suite 330
Chicago, Illinois 60661
Assistant Dean of International Law
Chicago-Kent College of Law
565 West Adams Street, Suite 310
Chicago, Illinois 60661