Kosovo Crisis Update
More than 660,000 Kosovars have returned to Kosovo a month after the deployment of NATO forces following a peace agreement.
Revised estimates for Montenegro show that 47,500 Kosovars have returned compared to a previous count of 50,500, reflecting the fact that several thousand have gone into Kosovo on assessment visits and returned to Montenegro. Around 33,000 displaced remain in Montenegro and an additional 21,000 mainly Serbian and Roma people from Kosovo have arrived there in recent weeks.
UNHCR believes that around 212,000 refugees have returned from the FYR of Macedonia to Kosovo. There are around 10,000 refugees in camps in the FYR of Macedonia, but a re-registration of those living in host families is in progress and so far the results show there are 21,000 of them still in the country.
Around 398,000 refugees in Albania have returned to Kosovo. At least 44,500 are believed to be still in the country, but an effort is currently being made to verify the numbers remaining in each Prefecture.
Of the 21,700 who had fled into Bosnia and Herzegovina, 4,400 have returned, leaving 16,600 still in the country.
The number of returnees from Albania to Kosovo on Sunday fell below the 5,000 mark for the first time since the massive repatriation started on 15 June. Sunday's 4,139 departures - 3,130 spontaneous and 1,009 organized - brought the overall count of returnees to 398,000.
The three-day count (July 9-11) of departures was 17,500, including 6,600 on Friday and 6,700 on Saturday.
The drop in the number of spontaneous returns indicates that many of the refugees remaining in Albania will need transport assistance.
Last week, the Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo offered 20 buses to transport to Kosovo hundreds of returnees stranded at the railhead at Mjeda outside Shkodra. The buses were put into service beginning Friday. They will shuttle returnees daily from Mjeda to Kukes. Another 20 buses will transport refugees from Kukes to points inside Kosovo. The Saudi group has also made available two ambulances to be based in Prizren to move vulnerable returnees from Kukes.
Along with the looting of camps that are being emptied, security problems persist along the roads.
At 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, bandits attacked a returnee family travelling near Shenmari on the road between Tirana and Kukes, wounding two persons, one critically. An AFOR helicopter later airlifted the victims to a hospital in Durres. UNHCR has warned against travel at night on the Senmari road, where UNHCR has a way station manned by the Salvation Army.
The situation of the minorities continues to be a prime concern.
UNHCR is looking for accommodation for around 400 Roma who have encamped beside the Djakovica cemetery, where they remained over the weekend despite heavy rains. They have refused to leave the area until they are transported out of Kosovo. Conditions are appalling and children are practically sleeping in the mud.
In Orahovac, UNHCR is closely monitoring the situation of around 3,000 Serbs from various areas in the city and the nearby villages of Velica Hoca and Zociste who have been stranded in the town centre since they fled attacks by ethnic Albanians the past two weeks. Most of their houses have been burned and 219 of them said they would like to leave Kosovo immediately. KFOR accompanied three of them back to their home village of Zociste, where they saw that the Serb houses have been burned down. The group has been joined by a number of Serb refugees from the Krajina who would like UNHCR's help to return to Croatia.
A UNHCR team visited Velica Hoca, where tension prevails. A Dutch KFOR contingent has been deployed there to protect around 1,000 remaining Serbs who have been unable to move about without armed escorts.
On Friday, four more houses were burned in the Serb quarter of Prizren, above the seminary where 130 Serbs have taken refugee. In the past several weeks, 25 Serb houses have been burned in the downtown area. Although there are hardly any Serbs left in Prizren, the latest incident is a clear message that Serbs are not welcome back.
In Urosevac, a group of around 60 Kosovo Serbs were huddled for several days on the side of the town square, next to KFOR Headquarters, before arranging their own transport, apparently to Serbia, over the weekend.
In Djakovica, UNHCR staff report that life is slowly returning to normal, though the law-and-order situation is still precarious. It is estimated that 80 percent of the original town population (which was 61,000) have returned, and that 70 percent of the population in the surrounding villages have come back. Altogether around 110,000 people are thought now to have come back to the municipality which had a pre-war population of around 131,000.
A team from Handicap International arrived last week in Djakovica and has begun mine clearance operations, beginning with schools, which will be used this summer for catch-up classes, which started last week.
FYR of Macedonia
In a development welcomed by UNHCR, the Skopje authorities have agreed to extend the validity of the registration document held by Kosovar refugees living outside of camps (the so-called "green cards") through 28 September. A recount of this population is being done as the green card holders come to police stations to have the validity of their cards extended. So far, 21,000 green-card holders who remain in the FYR of Macedonia have been counted. The revalidation exercise is continuing.
As border traffic returns to normal, and Kosovars travel increasingly back and forth along with other Yugoslav passport holders, it has become difficult to get an accurate count of refugees returning. UNHCR is concentrating on reporting the number of refugees who return in organized movements as well as returns of the green card holders.
Ethnic Albanians from Serbia's western towns of Presevo and Bujanovac continue to trickle into the FYR of Macedonia, bringing stories of harassment by Serbian police. Anywhere from a few ethnic Albanians to several hundred arrive each day in the Macedonian municipality of Tabanovce.
The recent arrivals say their homes in Presevo's Caradak hills have been burned, their movements in Serbia have been restricted and food purchases have been limited. UNHCR has also received reports that 400 to 500 ethnic Albanians have been barred from returning to rebuild burned homes in nine villages in Presevo.
Returns from third countries
Representatives from 29 countries, UNHCR and IOM are meeting today in Geneva to discuss the co-ordination of voluntary repatriation of Kosovars from abroad. So far at least 9,600 have returned in both organized and spontaneous movements (from Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy and Turkey).
UNHCR Turkey plans to begin on Wednesday the registration of Kosovo refugees in Turkey for organized voluntary repatriation. Turkey has hosted around 17,700 refugees from Kosovo, including 8,340 who came under the evacuation programme from the FYR of Macedonia. An estimated 7,600 Kosovars have returned spontaneously, mostly from among the group who came spontaneously to Turkey at the very beginning of the conflict. Organized voluntary repatriation flights from Turkey are expected to start at the end of July.