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Kosovo: Influx reduced to trickle

Briefing notes

Kosovo: Influx reduced to trickle

9 April 1999

The influx of refugees into Albania, FYR Macedonia and Montenegro has gone down to a trickle since Wednesday. The Yugoslav side closed the borders to Macedonia and Albania in the night of Tuesday to Wednesday (6/7 April) and new arrivals in Montenegro have been below 1,000 per day since then as well. UNHCR remains extremely concerned about the welfare of the people who had been waiting to cross into Macedonia and Albania and who are no longer on the roads.

The field at the Blace (General Jankovic) crossing point between Kosovo and Macedonia is empty and no one is waiting there. The elderly and ill people who had been left behind in the medical tents when the Blace population was evacuated in the night of 6/7 April were moved yesterday to the Brazda transit centre.

The population which had been in the muddy field at Blace was moved out by the Macedonian authorities in the night of 6/7 April without prior warning to UNHCR. Around 28,000 refugees were moved to the Brazda transit centre, and another 9,500 refugees were taken by bus to southern Albania, to Pogradeci and Korca. UNHCR Tirana dispatched blankets to this group yesterday and a team went from Tirana to assess their needs. They are currently being helped by the Albanian Red Cross.

Meanwhile at the Jazince crossing point into Macedonia (on the Tetovo road), around 1,200 people who had been waiting for days in the no man's land were finally allowed yesterday to cross into Macedonia and have already been accommodated with host families in the villages near Lojane. One new arrival reported that he and his family had waited at the border for 7 days and nights before being allowed through.

Refugees in Macedonia who have been contacted by family members who had been waiting to enter Macedonia but who returned to Kosovo tell varying stories. Some indicate that they could no longer stay on the roads after many days of waiting, and had to return home to get food and other supplies and alleviate the suffering of their children. Others indicate that they were clearly ordered back into Kosovo by Yugoslav security forces.

Staff in Albania report that the roads are deserted at both the Morini and Qafe Prushit border crossings.

UNHCR is grateful for the offers made by a large number of governments to take in refugees and to relieve the pressure on Macedonia. UNHCR has dispatched a team to Skopje to co-ordinate such departures, and wants to emphasize that all evacuations must be entirely voluntary, that refugees must be properly registered before departing and that families must be kept intact. However, evacuation to other countries is a "safety valve" and our priority remains to assist refugees in the region as much as possible.