Updated UNHCR Guidelines for the Humanitarian Evacuation Programme of Kosovar Refugees in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia



1.         In response to the humanitarian crisis in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) are organising the Humanitarian Evacuation of Kosovo Albanian refugees from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for the purpose of ensuring their safety. The Humanitarian Evacuation is also intended to ease pressure on the host country thereby ensuring that asylum-seekers and refugees continue to have access to The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The decision to depart to a third country is entirely voluntary. UNHCR and IOM undertake the pre-departure registration of refugees and organise their movement to countries which have offered to receive them, until such time as the conditions in the places of origin permit their return.

2.         The Humanitarian Evacuation programme is not a resettlement programme, and hence resettlement procedures and criteria should not be applied, unless required by law in the receiving countries. Humanitarian evacuation does not focus, as does resettlement, on addressing individual protection needs, rather it focuses on the protection requirements of the group. It moves groups of refugees so that all in need of protection can have access to safety. It is therefore essential that countries with resettlement programmes establish their humanitarian evacuation quotas in addition to their resettlement quotas.

3.         Large numbers of refugees are expected to try to enter The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in the near future. A substantial reduction of the overall numbers of refugees already in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the only way to ensure that new arrivals are allowed to enter. UNHCR is most appreciative of the response to the High Commissioner's appeals to activate quotas or, for those countries which have already filled their quotas, to increase them, and would like to encourage all the countries to proceed urgently with the humanitarian evacuation while adhering to UNHCR's prioritisation.

4.         In order to facilitate the eventual return of the refugees, priority was initially given to their evacuation to countries in Europe. However, the increasing number of arrivals and the deteriorating conditions in the camps due to overcrowding in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have necessitated the activation of some of the quotas offered by countries outside Europe.

5.         UNHCR's prioritisation targets the most vulnerable refugees and those with special needs. Underpinning such prioritisation are the guiding principles of voluntariness of departure, respect forunity of the family and links to country of destination.

5.1 Priority should be given to refugees in camps who are enduring the most difficult conditions, and in particular from Brazda and Stenkovac 2.

5.2 Refugees with medical problems should also be accepted on a priority basis by countries with well appropriate medical care.

5.3 UNHCR and IOM make every effort to ensure that families are not separated during evacuation, and UNHCR urges the receiving States to facilitate the reunification of those refugees with their family members who had been separated during the evacuation, or otherwise due to the conflict in their home area or during their flight.

5.4 Family reunification is one of the guiding principles of UNHCR. Thus respect for family unity is one of UNHCR's criteria for prioritisation under the HE. However, UNHCR appeals to all receiving countries not to limit their evacuation places to refugees with family links in the receiving country. Similarly, refugees with family links in countries where the quota has been filled should not be rejected by other countries.


6.         Countries are requested to confirm as a matter of urgency their readiness to accept refugees as well as the planned schedule of departures. UNHCR would like to encourage the countries to move refugees out of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia quickly and using aircrafts as large as possible, or to schedule several flights on the same day.

7.         In addition to the airport in Skopje, the airport in Thessaloniki may also be used, and it is only three hours away by road from Skopje. The Government of Greece has requested that the flight manifest be presented by IOM, and that four days notice be given for each flight by IOM and the concerned embassy in Athens. No other identity or travel documents are required.

8.         Actual prioritisation of refugee departures is carried out, at present, jointly by UNHCR and IOM, with the support of staff from the Norwegian Refugee Council. A group of Swedish immigration officers is expected to be deployed under UNHCR auspices shortly to assist in this task.

9.         Once countries are ready to receive refugees, they should advise the UNHCR HEP team to prepare lists of candidates at least four days before the planned departure date. The presence of country delegations in Skopje to assist UNHCR HEP team in the processing of candidates is most welcome. However, delegations should be advised that, due to the prevailing conditions, UNHCR cannot guarantee administrative or logistical support.

10.       IOM and OSCE are responsible for placing name lists of accepted candidates on notice boards in the camps and of all logistics related to the departure. These lists indicate the country of destination, and the place and time of departure from the camp. They are ideally posted a day before departing time and, at the very latest, the night before.

11.       Receiving governments can contract the services of IOM to facilitate and organise the transport of refugees by bus from the camps to the airport at Skopje. IOM can also provide pre-departure medical checks. Escorts are provided either by IOM, the receiving Government, or the Government of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Of course, countries have the choice of either using their own national carriers or IOM.

12.       If receiving countries use their national carriers the slot request form indicating the day(s) for flying in and out of Skopje/Thessaloniki, must be submitted to UNHCR air-cell 48 hours in advance. This is extremely important for safety reasons and to ensure the optimum use of resources. Once a slot has been assigned, no changes are possible. Given the increase in the number of flights, Skopje airport is now being used on a day and night schedule, and countries should therefore be prepared to receive refugees at night.

13.       As an increasing number of countries has activated or increased their quotas, refugees in some instances appear to be favouring some destinations over others. Information is presently being disseminated to the refugee population in the camps through pamphlets and other means to remind them that this is a temporary evacuation programme. While departures are voluntary and links to destination countries are taken into account, in principle they do not have a choice as to the country of destination.


14.       The registration of refugees in Macedonian is co-ordinated and undertaken by the Government of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and UNHCR, with support from IOM and where necessary OSCE. Given the exceptional nature of the humanitarian evacuation and the limited resources in the field to receive the large refugee influx, the registration system has been simplified to collect only the essential information to facilitate the voluntary humanitarian evacuation and to ensure the possibility of family tracing in the future.