Some refugee camps in Macedonia will remain open throughout the winter to provide help for thousands of Kosovo Albanians unable to return home, the U.N. refugee agency said today.
"We would like to close the camps in Macedonia by winter, but we still have thousands of people who will not be able to return because of harassment and the current situation," agency spokeswoman Miko Shinohara told reporters, a reference to wartime devastation that left many of their homes uninhabitable.
The agency said 22,800 refugees remain in Macedonia, of whom 8,200 live in five camps, while the remainder are housed in private homes. The majority are ethnic Albanians who were victims of a campaign of terror and expulsion waged by Serb-led Belgrade government forces. At least 300,000 took refuge in Macedonia, while about a half-million fled to Albania.
Among the refugees remaining in Macedonia are 5,000 Gypsies, many of whom are accused by Kosovo Albanians of collaborating with Serbian authorities. They have been shunned by ethnic Albanian refugees in camps abroad and have faced retaliation when they return home. Most of the Gypsies live with relatives in Macedonia, which has a large Gypsy community.
More than 740,000 refugees have returned to Kosovo, Shinohara said. She said the refugee agency had examined 450 villages in Kosovo--about a quarter of the total--and established that 54 percent of all dwellings had been destroyed or suffered severe damage during the war.
"Thirty-seven percent of the villages were hosting internally displaced people, the majority of whom . . . cited damage to their own homes as the main reason for not returning," Shinohara said.
She said the U.N. agency could provide only basic repairs for homes and would continue to distribute tents and emergency shelter kits for those in urgent need.