Kosovo Crisis Update
Dennis McNamara, UNHCR Special Envoy for the former Yugoslavia and Albania, said organized returns to Urosevac, Prizren and Pristina could begin as early as next week from the FYR of Macedonia and Albania.
The precondition for this has been an understanding reached with KFOR, the international security force in Kosovo, that the security conditions for the commencement of organized return exist in these three destinations.
UNHCR staff in camps in Albania and the FYR of Macedonia are identifying refugees who wish to take advantage of the offer of transport assistance from UNHCR and its partners. Refugees will be told that they must be from the specific town selected for return because the necessary conditions for organized return are currently in place only in those areas.
Organized movements to other areas will follow as the basic requirements for a safe and sustainable return are met in each locale. Those requirements include first and foremost a secure environment as well as an established international presence by UNHCR and its NGO partners, the availability shelter and of food and other assistance for the returnees.
Less than two weeks after its return to Kosovo as lead humanitarian agency, UNHCR has established offices in five of seven designated towns across Kosovo, including the three chosen for the initial organized returns. Hundeds of tons of supplies have been delivered to Kosovo, and a regular supply and distribution system to the different parts of the province is being put in place. Seven out of eight planned distribution centres are up and running.
Despite the dangers posed by mines and other security threats and the frequently very difficult conditions in their home areas, more than 250,000 refugees have spontaneously returned to Kosovo. This underscores the intense desire of Kosovars to start rebuilding their lives as quickly as possible.
On Wednesday, UNHCR sent convoys from Skopje to three distribution centres inside Kosovo. They ferried mattresses, blankets and tents. Five trucks went to Pec, five to Urosevac and three to Prizren. On Thursday, two trucks are proceeding to Urosevac carrying 95 tents, 350 rolls of plastic sheeting, 250 mattresses and 350 blankets.
More than 150,000 Kosovars have returned home from Albania since June 15. On Wednesday, 15,500 went back through Morini, the main crossing into Kosovo, and another 1,000 through nearby Qafe Prushit. As in past days, most of the returnees went to the municipalities of Prizren, Suva Reka and Gora.
AFOR, the international security force in Albania, on Wednesday began a 24-hour presence at Morini. UNHCR will now henceforth also operate round the clock there. Hitherto UNHCR staff have been at Morini from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.
UNHCR is distributing an assistance package to refugees returning from Albania consisting of a one month food supply and non-food items. Returnees to Kosovo from southern and central Albania are being told about this on reaching Kukes, to ensure that they also benefit. During the daytime this assistance is available at the Morini crossing; at nightime it is distributed at a way-station in Kukes town.
FYR of Macedonia
Around 15,200 refugees returned to Kosovo from the FYR of Macedonia on Wednesday - 7,800 through the main crossing at Blace, 6,800 at Jazince and 600 at Tabanovce. So far, a total of 97,600 Kosovars have gone back home from the FYR of Macedonia.
On Thursday, 1,600 refugees left in the early morning and large numbers were once again expected to follow during the day.
On Wednesday, around 1,000 ethnic Albanians from the Presevo area of Serbia proper tried to return home through an unofficial border crossing near Lojane, since they were not in possession of travel documents. Because of the danger of land mines, the Macedonian border guards turned them back and directed them to use official crossing points. UNHCR staff from Belgrade have been dispatched to the border to facilitate the entry of this group into Serbia.
UNHCR is meanwhile also looking into the condition of 800-1,000 Serbs, mostly women and children, in Bitola. Aid workers say they came to the FYR of Macedonia because of the worsening economic situation in Serbia.
Republic of Montenegro
Some 3,900 Kosovars left Montenegro for Kosovo on Wednesday, including 1,000 who said they were going to check on the conditions in their home areas before deciding if they want to go back permanently.
The border crossing at Rozaje was busy with 100 vehicles passing each hour at the peak of the departures. Police escorted two convoys which transported 2,400 displaced Kosovars in 14 vehicles and 300 cars from Ulcinj, where most of the displaced are sheltered.
The returns went smoothly except for one incident at Berane in Rozaje when civilians threw rocks and slightly injured a man and a woman.
A small group of Kosovo Serbs arrived at Berane Wednesday. UNHCR provided them with relief aid. Aid workers are looking for accommodation for them.
UNHCR-IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme
On Wednesday, 95 refugees in the FYR of Macedonia left for France under the humanitarian evacuation programme of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, bringing the total departures to 88,607.