Date: Sat, 17 Apr 1999 13:46:42 -0500 (CDT)
From: MichaelP <email@example.com>
Subject: Meanwhile in FYROM (formerly Yugo.Rep;ublic of Macedonia)
Large numbers of homeless Kosovars—as many as 30,000—were moving towards the border with Macedonia yesterday trying to escape the misery of Serbian ethnic cleansers, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Accounts by frightened refugees who have poured over the border in the past 24 hours suggested that many more Albanians are on the move and expected to arrive during the next few days, as the Yugoslav authorities crank up their programme of forced expulsions.
More than 500 people, some of whom said they were roughed up by Serbian police before being handed over to Macedonia at Blace border crossing, were taken on 11 buses to the Stankovic refugee camp which is already packed with 39,000 refugees.
Ethnic Albanians who had crossed from Kosovo into north Albania being helped into an army truck to be taken to a refugee camp—Dylan Martinez
Shooting could be heard yesterday from steep wooded hills just inside the area of Kosovo that overlooks Blace. Fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are thought to be active in the area against Serb forces.
The latest arrivals were bused away before reporters could speak to them, but UN relief officials who debriefed them said they had either been evicted from their homes or had fled through fear or lack of food.
“[For some] there was the knock on the door at 5am today; police, paramilitaries and soldiers told them to get out of their houses and loaded them on buses which took them to the train station at Urosevac,” said Ron Redmond, a UN refugee agency spokesman, referring to the southern Kosovo town 30km from the border.
“The train brought them to Blace. En route, they said they passed destroyed or burning villages. They said they were not physically abused in Urosevac, but that when they got off the train some of the men were beaten by Serbian soldiers,” Mr Redmond said.
Earlier, another UN refugee agency spokeswoman, Paula Ghedini, said there were indications that about 20,000 or more ethnic Albanians were adrift or hiding around the town of Urosevac and expected to head for Blace in coming days.
A further 300 refugees entered the country near the remote highland town of Jazince, many more were trapped in no man's land awaiting registration by Macedonian authorities, and 3,000 to 5,000 were believed to be waiting to enter.
Another 1,000 refugees were held up in Lojane in the northeast of the country.
“We are expecting significant movement in the coming days,” said Ms Ghedini. “Some people aren’t even asked to leave. They just heard there was an opportunity to cross a border [and left].”
Bracing for the coming wave of refugees, British troops hastily erected 350 tents capable of sheltering 1,750 people at Brazde refugee camp which already houses more than 25,000 ethnic Albanians.
The strategy of the Yugoslav authorities remains puzzling, however. A number of refugees at the Blace crossing reported that a train containing as many as a dozen carriages full of refugees arrived at the border town of Deneral Jankovic, only to return north, back into Kosovo, without discharging its passengers.
Rumours of another huge refugee influx have galvanised government and humanitarian agencies in Macedonia, which has barely been able to cope with the 120,000 refugees presently in the country, the majority of them living with Macedonian families. On Wednesday, 4,000 people came through, and at present capacity no more than 1,300 people can be flown out of Macedonia to the half dozen or so countries which are accepting refugees.
“When the Nato bombs started, we were forced to leave for the villages,” said Elfide Rexhepi, who arrived in Brazde on Wednesday from Urosevac. “When we went back all the shops in the neighbourhood had been burned. The people next door were told to leave, so we got out too. Many people were waiting at the station.
“Even if it only keeps up at this rate, we will be facing a huge number,” a senior Macedonian official said yesterday. “I am not very optimistic that the situation will get better.”
By Richard Lloyd Parry in Skopje
The Macedonian government angrily denounced Western nations yesterday for breaking their promises to give sanctuary to Kosovo refugees, and warned that the country's fragile economy was heading for collapse under the burden of the Balkans crisis.
“We can accept refugees at the borders and transport them to other countries or to the airport,” the Macedonian interior minister, Pavle Trajnov, said in an interview with The Independent. “Why the foreign countries don’t accept that, I do not know. They declare that they want to help the refugees, but is it enough just to come to the camps, take photos with the refugees, and then tell the whole world, ‘See, we’ve done so much for the refugees'?”
British Foreign minister Tony Lloyd touring Brazda refugee camp: ‘We’re determined these people will go back to their homes'—Tom Pilston
He spoke as the British Foreign Office minister, Tony Lloyd, was flying into the Macedonian capital, Skopje, for a half-day tour after spending a few hours in neighbouring Albania. Mr Lloyd met the Macedonian Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski, and toured the Brazda refugee camp, which has been built and operated by the British army.
Earlier this month, Britain announced that it was prepared to provide sanctuary for “some thousands” of refugees. Other countries, including the US, made similar announcements, but so far few have lived up to their commitments.
“We have always made it clear that where there was a demand, the UK would take in refugees,” Mr Lloyd said, after posing for the cameras with refugee children in front of their tents. “But we are not interested in creating a permanent refugee camp outside the region. We are determined that these people will go back to their homes, but if the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] said, ‘Please reconsider’, then we will reconsider.”
According to the UNHCR, 1,000 or so refugees are being evacuated every day to half-a-dozen countries, including Germany, Turkey, Poland, Switzerland, Norway, and even Israel and Iceland. But there was confusion over whether Britain had been asked formally to receive refugees. “If Britain says we haven’t made a formal request then I suppose we haven’t,” a UNHCR spokesman said yesterday.
Macedonia has been bitterly criticised for the desperate situation earlier this month, when tens of thousands of refugees were trapped for three days in a morass of mud at the border crossing of Blace, and roughly treated by border police. But Mr Trajnov accused foreign governments of hypocrisy in their approach to the crisis. “We’ve seen it before in other places, and it's happening again here,” he said. “They pass judgement on how the refugees are being cared for and say the camps are not well equipped and not well organised. At the same time, they come up with 300 excuses why they themselves shouldn’t [take any refugees].”
Since last spring, when fighting began in earnest between the Yugoslav security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army, some 150,000 Kosovo Albanians have fled to Macedonia—an 8 per cent population increase in a country with an already delicate ethnic and political balance between Slavs and Albanians.
As Mr Lloyd pointed out: “It's equivalent to the UK absorbing 5 million refugees. If we were faced with 5 million people queuing at the Channel Tunnel, we’d also have cause for concern.” The difference in Macedonia is that ethnic Albanians already made up a quarter of the population.
The vast refugee influx of the past three weeks has raised fears of ethnic conflict with members of the Macedonian majority.
In 1994, there were riots in Macedonia after the government tried to stop ethnic Albanians opening their own university in the western town of Tetovo. Mr Trajnov said he was concerned about the presence among the refugees of members of the KLA, and the potential conflict which this could create with the government in Belgrade.
He said that as a result of the crisis, foreign companies had suspended investment negotiations and banks were reluctant to give credit to Macedonian borrowers.
“I think in six months there will be a total collapse of the economy,” he said. “Then there would be a lot of side-effects for national security, law and order and society.”