Returns to FYR of Macedonia top 50,000, but fear and mistrust remain
SKOPJE, Sept 14 (UNHCR) - The total number of returns from Kosovo to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has topped 50,000, according to the UN refugee agency. Refugees are returning from Kosovo at a rate of about 1,500 a day.
The returns intensified following the September 6 vote by FYROM's Parliament in favour of granting more rights to ethnic Albanians. The vote coincided with the lifting of a blockade on the main road from Kosovo to FYROM. An estimated 31,000 refugees remain in Kosovo, and at least 76,000 people are registered as internally displaced within FYROM.
Despite the increasing returns, UNHCR reported that security remains the foremost concern for both Albanian and ethnic Macedonian communities. "Many ethnic Albanian returnees say they cannot return to their homes in villages above Tetovo and Kumanovo because of police checkpoints," said spokesman Ron Redmond. Redmond noted that displaced ethnic Macedonians from predominantly ethnic Albanian areas venture out to their villages during the day, as they fear for their safety during the night.
The UN refugee agency reported that one displaced ethnic Macedonian family with small children who had gone home to the village of Ljuboten decided to leave again after spending three nights at home and hearing gunshots in the village at night. Another displaced ethnic Macedonian family said they did not have high hopes for returning before winter and would return only after the redeployment of FYROM security forces, according to UNHCR.
With less than two weeks left before NATO ends its arms collection mission, UNHCR urged the international community to put in place a security arrangement in FYROM for when NATO leaves. "Only an adequate international presence can alleviate the fear and mistrust between the communities and help create conditions for safe and sustainable return," said Redmond.
The ethnic Albanian mayor of Tetovo said in a meeting with UNHCR's Balkan's special envoy this week that both communities had suffered from the conflict and displaced ethnic Macedonians should also be allowed to return to their homes. But he warned that premature redeployment of the FYROM forces to the conflict-affected areas will likely meet resistance and bring the country back to war. "Today it is difficult to find a good book to read, but it's easy to find weapons," he said.