Prospects for peace in FYR of Macedonia draw refugees home
BLACE, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Sept. 10 (UNHCR) - More than 8,000 refugees have returned to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from Kosovo since the FYROM parliament voted on September 6 to consider more rights for ethnic Albanians. Almost 3,000 people returned on September 8 alone, marking the single largest number of returns in one day since the peace accord was signed.
Drawn back by the prospects for peace, most of the returning refugees are heading to Skopje, Kumanovo and Tetovo - FYROM's three largest cities. The refugees told UNHCR staff that the biggest single factor influencing their decision to return was the absence of fighting in FYROM.
Another deciding factor was the presence of NATO troops. Refugees are returning even though they are aware that NATO's mission in FYROM is temporary. They also took into consideration low levels of assistance in Kosovo, the opening of FYROM schools in early September and the possibility of losing their jobs in FYROM if they remain in Kosovo for too long. Those who know their homes have been destroyed plan to stay with family members in their villages.
In all, 45,750 people have returned to FYROM since July. Some 37,000 refugees are still in Kosovo, but if the current rate of returns continues, most will be back in FYROM by the end of September. Around 10,000 are expected to remain in Kosovo for the time being, many of them relatives of National Liberation Army fighters and others awaiting word about a possible amnesty before returning.
Fighting between government forces and National Liberation Army rebels since February 2001 forced more than 80,000 people to flee to Kosovo and displaced over 70,000 within FYROM itself.