Operation Kosovo: KRISYS NET

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Kosovo Refugee Information Systems and Network

An Interprofessional Initiative of the
Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Illinois Institute of Technology

Trip Report and Project Summary, June 1999

Executive Summary

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 that process.

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 database.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Paul Meyer

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 field.

Microsoft Corporation
Frank Schott
EMEA Region HQ
Tour Pacific
92977 Paris La Defense
phone: +33 (1) 4635 1087

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Betsy Greve
phone: +355 (42) 28474, 50206, 50207, 50208, Extension: 2756

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 Europe (OSCE)
Kosovo Verification Mission
Stephanie Blair
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 in Kosovo.

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.

Hammale Camp

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 greeted us.

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.

Overview 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 participating organizations.

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.

Primary 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.

Secondary 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.

Refugee/Asylum Affidavits: 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 is fleeing.

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.

Contact Information:

If you wish to learn more about our projects and our trips, please contact:

Harry "IV" Ashton
Director of Institutional Projects
Chicago-Kent College of Law
565 West Adams Street, Suite 330
Chicago, Illinois 60661
(312) 906-5005


Charles Rudnick
Assistant Dean of International Law
Chicago-Kent College of Law
565 West Adams Street, Suite 310
Chicago, Illinois 60661
(312) 906-5012



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The Rule of Law Through Technology Initiative
is an Interprofessional Project (IPRO) of

Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Illinois Institute of Technology