FYR of Macedonia: returns continue at a trickle
Refugee returns over the past week continued at a trickle, indicating the government's stated intention to grant amnesty was not powerful enough to guarantee safe return for former rebels and their families. The rate of returns ranged from 50 to 100 per day. Since late June, 57,000 refugees have returned and another 24,900 remain in Kosovo. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross also says there are 44,500 displaced people in the country.
Meanwhile, some 120 displaced ethnic Macedonians returned this week to their homes in the mixed village of Neprosteno, 10 km north of the country's second largest city of Tetovo. Most of the ethnic Albanians, who comprise 75 percent of Neprosteno's population, remained despite the six-month conflict, but the ethnic Macedonians fled.
UNHCR distributed relief packages containing mattresses, plastic sheeting, hygienic kits and tools to the returnees. UNHCR is also providing funding to both communities in Neprosteno so that they can buy cows, sheep and other animals, replacing livestock lost during the conflict. Income generated from the new livestock under UNHCR's quick impact projects could be reinvested through a local community fund for additional purchases of animals.
The government has been organising go-see visits for IDPs to promote returns to the Tetovo region, which is heavily populated by ethnic Albanians, but apprehensions persist. UNHCR has been visiting the region regularly in a bid to help build confidence in the 13 August peace agreement and allow the return of both refugees and displaced people.
Last month, UNHCR began a bus service to enable both communities to cross ethnic lines and checkpoints as part of its confidence-building programme in Tetovo, 60 km west of Skopje. On Thursday, UNHCR started a new bus line between Kumanovo, 40 km north-east of the FYROM capital, and the nearby Lopate and Opaje villages.