FYR of Macedonia: 30,000 have now returned from Kosovo
Around 900 refugees went back from Kosovo to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) yesterday (Monday) in the largest return in recent days. Their return coincided with the start of NATO's arms collection programme. In all, nearly 30,000 refugees have now returned from Kosovo, including some 5,600 since the signing of a peace agreement on 13 August. Most of those who have returned since the agreement crossed at the Jazince border post north-west of Skopje. Most have gone back to urban centres, indicating a lack of confidence in the security situation in their home villages, where the situation remains unstable.
UNHCR is concerned about returns to insecure areas and is worried that NATO's temporary presence may be giving a false sense of security. NATO has a very specific mission in FYROM - to collect arms from the Albanian rebels within a 30 day-period. The required pullback of ethnic Albanian rebels and the FYROM security forces creates a security vacuum. This may pose a real danger for the civilian population, particularly the returning refugees and displaced people.
Despite the signing of the peace agreement two weeks ago, security incidents occur almost daily in the Skopje and Tetovo areas. UNHCR considers that under such a volatile situation, the conditions are not yet safe for the return of the displaced people, particularly the ethnic Macedonians who fled from areas where they were in a minority.
In the meantime, UNHCR this week stepped up the field presence to help build confidence in war-affected areas. Eight teams were deployed on Monday to the Skopje area, and Tetovo, Kumanovo, Aracinovo and Lipkovo municipalities to identify needs to improve the conditions for safe returns.
UNHCR has dispatched more mobile field teams in a stepped-up effort to help the government build confidence in war-affected areas in FYROM. Eight teams, which include government and NGO partners, were fielded Monday around the Skopje area and in Tetovo, Kumanovo, Aracinovo and Lipkovo municipalities. UNHCR is also continuing an ongoing assessment of damage and assistance needs of internally displaced people and refugees who have returned from Kosovo and southern Serbia.
As of Sunday, 29,595 refugees had returned to FYROM, staying mainly in Skopje and other urban centres. A total of 51,880 remain in Kosovo, most of them living with relatives and friends. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross said that since the conflict in FYROM started in February, it had registered 70,728 internally displaced persons - 66,871 in host families and 3,857 in collective centres.