Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 20:36 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Macedonia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Macedonia , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Major outbreaks of violence between February and August 2001 resulted in the forced displacement of more than 175,000 Macedonians during the year. By year's end, however, most had returned to their homes, and only 43,500 remained uprooted. The number of Macedonian refugees in neighboring countries had fallen from about 100,000 at the height of the displacement to about 22,500 by year's end. Another 21,000 people remained internally displaced, while about 55,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their homes by the end of 2001, according to the Macedonian Red Cross.

Macedonia also hosted more than 3,500 refugees, mostly ethnic minorities from Kosovo.

During the year, 5,611 Macedonians filed asylum claims in 23 other European countries, a 44 percent increase from the 3,597 Macedonian claims filed in 2000. Macedonians filed the largest number of applications in Austria (934), Switzerland (890), and Belgium (667). Although Kosovo hosted about 11,000 refugees from Macedonia at year's end, and Turkey another 5,500, neither Kosovar nor Turkish authorities adjudicated any claims.

Throughout the ebb and flow of conflict, refugees continued both crossing into and returning from Kosovo, causing fluctuating estimates of the uprooted. For example, as refugees who had fled the Tetovo region began returning in mid-year, newly displaced refugees from the Kumanovo area began exiting, often through the same Blace crossing point made famous by the massive exodus of Kosovar refugees into Macedonia in 1999.

During the summer months, Macedonian border guards often prevented would-be returning refugees from re-entering the country if they were not carrying a valid passport.

An August 13 peace agreement resulted in a cease-fire that held through the end of the year, though not without significant challenges. Among the peace agreement's provisions were an annex calling on all parties to "work to ensure the return of refugees" and displaced persons to their homes within the shortest possible time frame." After the peace agreement, border guards were reportedly more willing to allow Macedonians without valid passports to re-enter the country by showing other documents that established their Macedonian residency.

The first phase of the conflict began in late February with clashes between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and government forces in villages bordering Kosovo, spreading in mid-March to Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city.

A renewal of fighting in early May caused tens of thousands to flee from surrounding villages to the town of Kumanovo, located about 19 miles (32 km) northeast of the capital, or to cross the border into Kosovo or southern Serbia and become refugees. Many villagers in danger from shelling and shooting remained in their villages, raising concerns that ethnic Albanian rebels were using them as human shields and that Macedonian government forces were not taking sufficient precautions to avoid civilian casualties. During the height of fighting in May, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other agencies were often unable to deliver humanitarian aid to the trapped civilians or to evacuate them from NLA-controlled villages, such as Lipkovo and Slupcane.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) visited Macedonia in late May and early June, meeting with villagers in Aracinovo, a town about six miles (ten km) north of Skopje to which they had been displaced by shelling and shooting in the Matejce and Vistica area. Several days later, the battle lines shifted to Aracinovo itself, and the town was subjected to shelling, displacing not only the town's pre-conflict population of about 10,000, but also a comparable number of previously displaced who had sought shelter there.

NATO forces – including American troops who were part of the Stabilization Force in Kosovo – were later involved in a controversial evacuation of ethnic Albanian fighters from Aracinovo.

On June 26, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed for up to $17.5 million to help about 100,000 refugees and internally displaced people in the region, including 65,000 ethnic Albanians from Macedonia who had fled to Kosovo, 6,000 Macedonian Slavs who had gone to Serbia, and about 32,000 persons displaced within Macedonia. UNHCR said that the money would be used to purchase food for ethnic Albanian families in Kosovo who were hosting refugees from Macedonia. Earlier, on June 11, the new UNHCR high commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, said at the end of his visit to Macedonia, "More than one million people in the Balkans remain displaced from conflicts of the past decade. The last thing the region needs is more refugees."

Subsequent to the August 13 peace agreement, NATO began Operation Essential Harvest, the deployment of 3,500 international troops whose main purpose was to receive arms voluntarily surrendered by NLA rebels. NATO extended its presence beyond Operation Essential Harvest's September 26 expiration, and maintained a presence in the country through year's end. Simultaneously, UNHCR, the Macedonian government, and other agencies worked to promote return of refugees and internally displaced people by organizing "go and see" visits to their former homes and by establishing a UNHCR-operated bus service across ethnic lines in the conflict regions, among other activities.

In November, a new outbreak of violence caused about 1,000 villagers to flee Ljuboten, near Skopje, and hundreds more to flee from Semsovo, near Tetovo.

At year's end, impediments to return included the lack of a fully ethnically integrated police force, the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance, and housing that remained damaged or destroyed. About 2,870 internally displaced persons were still living in collective centers at the end of 2001.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Macedonia

At year's end, Macedonia hosted more than 3,500 refugees, a 61 percent decrease from the previous year. Nearly all of the refugees in Macedonia at the end of 2001 were ethnic minorities from Kosovo; another 50 were from Bosnia (Muslims from Republika Srpska), and 2 were from countries outside the region.

Except for 26 refugees with asylum status (all but one from Yugoslavia), all the other refugees had temporary protected status. During the year, temporary protected status ended both for ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and for ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia. The authorities renewed temporary protection for minorities from Kosovo through March 2002. Beneficiaries of temporary protection were not permitted to work, and were dependent on international humanitarian assistance.

More than 90 percent of the 195 applicants who filed asylum claims during the year were persons whose temporary protected status had expired. The only actual new arrivals who filed asylum claims were ten ethnic Gorani and Roma from Kosovo and five persons from outside the region.

During the year, the government recognized 32 persons as refugees and rejected 70, a 31 percent approval rate. The government closed the cases of another 41 persons who did not appear for interviews. At year's end, 46 cases were under appeal and another 6 were pending a first-instance asylum interview.

During 2001, a reception center for asylum seekers was unable to accept any residents because it was located in a dangerous area and had been damaged in the ethnic violence. In December, the Ministry of Interior opened a new reception center in the capital, Skopje, which accommodated 48 persons at year's end.

About half of the "gypsy" minorities – Roma, Ashkalis, and "Egyptians" (RAE) – lived in private accommodations, while half lived in two collective centers. A third collective center, Radusha, which had mostly hosted ethnic Albanians, was closed during the year.

UNHCR facilitated the repatriation of 1,634 persons to Yugoslavia during the year, including 590 to Kosovo (327 RAE, 219 ethnic Albanians, and 44 members of other ethnic groups) and 1,044 to southern Serbia (780 Roma and 264 others). Other refugees returned without assistance.

UNHCR also facilitated the resettlement of 56 refugees to countries outside the region in 2001.

Asylum Law and Procedures

The Interior Ministry adjudicates asylum cases. Persons denied asylum have the right to administrative and court appeals, but in practice, the courts had not overturned any first-instance decisions.

Although a draft asylum law was awaiting resubmission to Parliament during the year, no action on the draft legislation occurred in 2001. The aliens law, therefore, governed Macedonia's treatment of individual asylum seekers during the year.

Recognized refugees receive identity cards; the duration of their residence permits is determined by age (seven years for persons age 0 to 25; 15 years for persons age 26 to 50; and permanent for persons over 50). Recognized refugees bearing identity cards are eligible for health-care benefits and other social benefits comparable to those granted to other foreign permanent residents.

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