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Kosovar refugees: stories of torture, beatings, extortion, shortages

Briefing notes

Kosovar refugees: stories of torture, beatings, extortion, shortages

21 May 1999

FYR of Macedonia on Thursday saw the highest number of Kosovo refugees in weeks with refugees telling stories of torture, beatings, extortion and shortages of food.

But while the exodus toward the FYR of Macedonia intensified, the flow of refugees toward Albania has almost completely dried up, indicating that the Yugoslav authorities might have practically severed that escape route.

2,300 people arrived by train in the FYR of Macedonia from Kosovo Polje, Pristina, Urosevac and Lipljan areas Thursday while more than four hundred crossed by road through other border points.

Many of those arriving by train had been living as internally displaced people inside Kosovo for some time. UNHCR staff heard repeated reports, mirroring those collected in Albania by Human Rights Watch, that Kosovar men had to pay military and paramilitary forces to escape with their lives. The sum of 1,500 DM was mentioned. There were also numerous reports of beatings and torture.

The refugees said that different parts of Pristina have been cleaned out over the past few days. Refugees said groups of policemen entered the houses and forced everyone to move out and be gone by the end of the day.

One group of refugees came from Marevce (Marefc) near Lipljan. They had left their village once before to take refuge in nearby Bandulic (Banulle), but had gone back to Marevce. They said that on Wednesday a large Yugoslav army contingent had arrived in Marevce and the group had fled back to Bandulic and then to Lipljan where they took the train. They said not one of the formerly 300 inhabitants of Marevce is left there.

Another family was part of the group pushed back on 5 May from the border by FYR of Macedonia police. The Serbian authorities had placed them in empty houses near the border and told them that the other side had closed the border. They hoped to cross the border the next day but it was still closed. They said that four buses were filled that day (6 May) with Kosovars who hoped to cross into FYR of Macedonia, and sent to Albania instead. (This matches reports given to UNHCR staff in northern Albania by refugees who arrived on 6 May.)

On the 3rd day (7 May) the refugees took the train back to Kosovo Polje. They boarded the train again on 17 May and tried to cross the border that day, but the train was again sent back. Yesterday they finally managed to cross.