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UNHCR starts bus lines promoting free movement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

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UNHCR starts bus lines promoting free movement in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

21 September 2001

Skopje - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees opened today a bus service in the northern Tetovo region to allow ethnic Albanian and Macedonians to move safely across security checkpoints and road blocks in the former Yugslav Republic of Macedonia.

All communities in the Tetovo region have expressed fears of travelling on the 25 km stretch of the main road between Tetovo town and Kosovo border. Harassment at roadblocks and checkpoints, they say, prevents workers from commuting to factories and children from attending schools.

Responding to the villagers' needs, the first UNHCR bus started north-bound from Tetovo town early this morning and another south-bound from the village of Rogacevo, near Jazince. International observers in the area have been alerted to monitor these buses which runs three times a day.

UNHCR is working to set up additional bus lines in the Tetovo and Kumanovo areas to address the security concerns of both communities and promote freedom of movement.

The refugee agency says safe access to affected-villages is crucial also for returning villagers to prepare for winter. Many villages need urgently to repair electricity and water facilities damaged in the armed clashes. The fear of mines and armed groups is preventing villagers from working in the fields to harvest crops or gather firewood. Access is important also for aid convoys to reach these remote villages delivering basic supplies to vulnerable population.

UNHCR has increased its field presence to help create the conditions for return of all refugees and displaced people. Other competent agencies join the UNHCR team visits to address all aspects of livelihood - from housing repair to recovery of income-generating agricultural activities - in a bid to bring life back to normal in war-affected villages.

UNHCR is alarmed, however, that the security situation in some areas around Kumanovo and Tetovo remains volatile. With less than a week left before NATO completes its arms collecting mission on 26 September, UNHCR has called on the international community to deploy an effective transitional force to prevent a security vacuum that armed groups and paramilitaries might exploit.

Since June, more than 53,000 refugees have returned to FYROM, while 28,600 refugees remain in Kosovo. The [former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonian Red Cross has registered 74,000 people displaced within the country.