5 January 1996

REF/1130


HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES ANNOUNCES END OF SARAJEVO AIRLIFT

19960105GENEVA, 5 January 1996 (UNHCR) -- The final flights of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sarajevo airlift, the longest- running humanitarian air bridge in history, are scheduled to arrive in the Bosnian capital on Tuesday, 9 January.

"For the past three-and-a-half years, the airlift has been Sarajevo's lifeline and a constant reminder to the hundreds of thousands of brave residents of the city that they were not forgotten", said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata. "Without a doubt, the airlift saved tens of thousands of people and kept the city alive through three winters of war."

Except for a few pallets of supplies that will be flown in on Tuesday's special final flights, UNHCR's airlift warehouse in Ancona, Italy, is now empty. A ceremony marking the end of the airlift is scheduled for Tuesday, once the final flights have landed. The last routine workday for the airlift was on Thursday, 4 January.

"When UNHCR began this airlift in July 1992, we never dreamed it would have to go on as long as it did", Ms. Ogata said. "We have looked forward to the end of the airlift for a long, long time. Although it passed many milestones, there was never cause for celebration. Every day of war and siege and suffering meant another day of flying. Now that it is finally over, I want to again pay tribute to those who died in this truly noble international effort to keep a brave city alive, and to honor the thousands of people from many countries and organizations who made it a success."

The UNHCR -- the lead humanitarian agency in affected parts of the former Yugoslavia throughout the war began the airlift on 3 July 1992. On 8 October 1993, it surpassed in duration the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949. It is now the longest-running airlift in history.

Some statistics and other facts include:

-- As of Friday, a total of 160,677 metric tons of aid had been flown into Sarajevo, including 144,827 metric tons of food and 15,850 metric tons of medicine, equipment and other supplies;

- 2 - Press Release REF/1130 5 January 1996

-- Since it began, some 20 nations and at least five organizations have participated in the airlift. For much of that time, however, five countries have flown regularly. They are Canada (1,860 flights), France (2,133), Germany (1,279), the United Kingdom (1,902) and the United States (4,597). Italy has also been a crucial participant throughout the airlift, providing planes and facilities at Ancona. Other participants included Norway, Sweden, Algeria, Belgium, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Turkey, Kuwait, as well as the organizations Medecins sans Frontiers, Medecins du Monde, International Committee of the Red Cross, United Kingdom Overseas Development Administration, Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, and the Soros Foundation;

-- During many months of the war, the airlift provided more than 85 per cent of all aid reaching the city;

-- There have been more than 270 security incidents involving the airlift. The worst single incident was the downing of an Italian Air Force G-222 cargo plane on 3 September 1992, killing all four crewmen aboard, (a subsequent Italian Government investigation determined the plane was struck by a surface-to-air missile fired by an unknown source about 17 miles from Sarajevo);

-- In addition to aid delivery, the airlift has helped with the medical evacuations of more than 1,100 patients from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also carried thousands of journalists into the city;

-- In the early days, the airlift flew from Zagreb and Split in Croatia, as well as from Frankfurt, Germany, and Ancona. In early 1995, UNHCR decided to consolidate all operations in Ancona as a cost-cutting measure;

-- The airlift was run by UNHCR -- through its Geneva-based Airlift Operations Cell -- in close coordination with the participating nations and the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) which, among other things, provided security at the airport;

-- The expertise gained from the Sarajevo airlift enabled UNHCR's Airlift Operations Cell in Geneva to quickly mount a massive airlift for Rwandan refugees in Goma, Zaire, in the summer of 1994;

-- Altogether, UNHCR has delivered more than 1.1 million tons of humanitarian assistance to more than 3.5 million people in former Yugoslavia since 1991. About 80 per cent of that aid went to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where UNHCR has 2.7 million beneficiaries under its care. Most of the aid was carried by UNHCR convoy, but the agency also used the Sarajevo airlift and airdrops to besieged communities like Gorazde and Bihac. More than 20,000 metric tons of aid were dropped by military cargo planes to besieged towns; and

-- The UNHCR continues its humanitarian aid programme in former Yugoslavia, and under the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be responsible for the return of some 2 million refugees and displaced people to that country.

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