KosovoNet project builds database to help refugees

Two nonprofit groups on Friday said they are building a database designed to aid relief organisations in their efforts to help families separated by the war in Yugoslavia.

The Internet Society and the Wladyslaw Poniecki Foundation, a nonprofit organisation active in Central and Eastern Europe, have started what they call the KosovoNet project, according to a statement. The project members are building a database and setting up a Web site, called KosovoNet.org, that will be available to Kosovar refugees around the globe. On the site, refugees will be able to register themselves and take advantage of an electronic bulletin board and Web-based e-mail.

The KosovoNet project is designed to help the more than one million ethnic Albanians who have left or been forced from their homes in Yugoslavia since the war began in April, according to the two nonprofit groups. They have relocated to countries including Greece, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Macedonia, Albania and the US.

Behind the project is an effort to build up one single repository for information about the refugees, necessary to help relief organisations reunite family members separated from one another when they fled their country. Although other efforts have already been made to record personal data about refugees, the project seeks to create a database with an easy-to-use interface that can be accessed and used more conveniently by many relief organisations, according to the nonprofit groups.

To do so, the KosovoNet project is asking relief agencies to share data so that a complete electronic registrar may be built. The database will house text, photographs, full motion video and audio files. Building such a database is also crucial for the future, the project said, because the Serbs destroyed most of the refugees' personal records, such as birth and death certificates.

It is not clear if the KosovoNet project plans to coordinate its efforts with those of a US government project announced earlier this month.

The US government is working with a group of high-technology companies who have donated $US500,000 in hardware and software to help set up information centres for the Kosovar refugees at selected camps. Neither could be reached for comment due to the US Memorial Day holiday.

However, in its statement, the KosovoNet project said the US-AID has asked it to establish a Web mail service for refugees based at Fort Dix, New Jersey. It also hopes to facilitate and extend the work of registration volunteers in the field, and is making the database available to all those seeking to assist the Kosovar refugees, including humanitarian relief agencies, public institutions and national embassies.

Sun Microsystems has donated a Sun Enterprise Server to host the multimedia applications and Web connections required, and Oracle is offering database technology including data warehousing, data mining tools and object-oriented retrieval systems, the groups said.

The Internet Society, a non-profit organisation with active members in 150 countries, helps develop and disseminate Internet policy on technical and societal issues. It can be found on the Web at http://www.isoc.org/. The Poniecki Foundation, based in California, aims to help mainly Central and Eastern Europe countries make the transition to free-market economies, but also carries out work in areas such as New Delhi and Bogota, Colombia. The Foundation has also translated workbooks on developing and using electronic networks. It can be found on the Web at http://www.poniecki.org/

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