International Operation Name: Operation PARASOL
International Mission Name: Operation PARASOL
Mandating Organization: Government of Canada
Region Name: Europe
Mission Date: 9 April 1999 - 31 August 1999
Mission Mandate: The CF will support Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) in the provision of humanitarian assistance to the refugee crisis in the Balkans.
Mission/Operation Notes: For more than a year, the Serbian province of Kosovo was witness to a gradual increase in tensions between the native Albanian Kosovar population and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) forces. The conflict escalated to the point where, in February 1999, under international guidance, negotiators from the Kosovo Albanian population and the FRY government were brought together in Rambouillet, France to negotiate a truce. The former eventually agreed to terms; the latter did not, and continued instead to pour troops into the province. When continued negotiations failed, the United Nations removed all personnel associated with the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) which had been established earlier that year, and warned that NATO military action was imminent if the FRY did not comply with the Rambouillet agreement. In March a final diplomatic effort was made that ultimately met with failure. On 24 March 1999 NATO launched Operation ALLIED FORCE and began air operations against FRY. FRY forces responded with an all-out campaign to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its Albanian population driving hundreds of thousands of Albanians across the border into Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro.
With nearly 1 million Kosovar refugees now in neighboring countries, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) sent out an international appeal for help to deal with the situation. Canada stepped forward and agreed to resettle some of the refugees who had been displaced, and asked that the CF play a role. It was in response to this request that the Canadian Forces launched Operation PARASOL.
On April 6 the CF issued a Warning Order placing CFBs Borden, Trenton, Kingston, Petawawa, and Meaford, on 72 hours notice to receive and house an expected 5000 refugees for up to six months. CFB Valcartier was designated as backup. Three days later, on 9 April, the CF was ready to receive the first refugees, and CFBs Greenwood, Aldershot, Gagetown, and Halifax, had been added to the operation.
From the outset, Citizenship and Immigration Canada took the lead in the operation. The Canadian Forces was heavily involved in a support role providing transportation, accommodations, meals, medical services, and with the help of volunteers, much needed support and comfort. On May 2nd 1999, the first of what were to be daily flights of chartered A310 Airbuses began arriving in Canada with refugees aboard. Alternating between CFB Trenton, Ontario, and CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia, the flights were met by volunteers from the Red Cross, local Lions and Rotary Clubs, The Salvation Army, members of the local community, and CF personnel to help the refugees move through the initial assessment process.
Escort teams, consisting of one military person and one volunteer were assigned a group of between 7 and 14 refugees. Wherever possible, the groups consisted of whole families (including pets) to ensure they were not broken up or lost in transition. The teams were responsible for knowing the whereabouts of each group member at all times, and for their movement from station to station. This included immigration processing, medical screening, identification, showering, new clothing and a hot meal. A key step in the process was nicknamed “the shoe store,” a station set up to replace shoes deemed “agriculturally unsound” - covered with too much dirt to clean - by Agriculture Canada. The entire primary reception process, including shoe fitting, was completed in less than an hour.
Once the primary reception was complete, the refugees were either transported to accommodations on the base where they landed, or were moved to one of the other support bases. After spending approximately two months in these facilities the refugees were then moved to cities across Canada where they were offered the option of establishing themselves either temporarily or permanently in a community with the help of a sponsor. In either case, the refugees had the option to relocate back to Kosovo within 24 months of their original arrival to Canada.
When stability was restored to Kosovo approximately one third of the Kosovars chose to repatriate the remainder made the decision to start a new life and stay in Canada. By the end of August 1999 when Operation PARASOL was brought to a close, the CF had processed more than 5500 refugees.
CF members distributing footwear to Kosovo Refugees.
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