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From Kosovo to Ukraine: Lessons from the humanitarian response to conflict and displacement in Europe

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By Margie Buchanan-Smith and Peter Wiles


Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the last large-scale forced migration and displacement to happen within Europe was the 1999 Kosovo crisis. The situation was described at the time as the ‘largest and fastest movement of people in Europe since World War II’ (Wiles et al., 2000), words that are now being used to describe the even larger flow of people displaced by the Ukraine crisis.

While there are many differences between the two crises, not least in terms of their primary cause and the scale of the humanitarian emergencies, there are also similarities (Table 1 in the PDF), particularly in the international humanitarian response. Both crises triggered record levels of funding, especially from private donations, and most international humanitarian agencies in receipt of those donations had limited or no presence and experience in the countries affected.

This paper highlights key lessons from the international humanitarian response to the Kosovo crisis that could have relevance in guiding the response to Ukraine. The lessons are drawn from the three-volume ‘Independent Evaluation of Expenditure of DEC Kosovo Appeal Funds’ (Wiles et al., 2000) and ALNAP’s meta-evaluation of the Kosovo response, from its 2001 Annual Review (Apthorpe, 2000).