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News Archive 1999

Human Rights Watch
Kosovo Human Rights Flash #23   April 7, 1999

Macedonia must protect Kosovo refugees, keep families intact

Human Rights Watch condemns the Macedonian government's forcible relocation of tens of thousands of Kosovo refugees during the past 48 hours, in total disregard of obligations under international refugee law.  Since Monday, Macedonian authorities have forced tens of thousands of refugees onto planes or buses, and transported them to Albania and other countries.  Some refugees have been separated from their families.  In addition, a large number of Kosovo Albanians who had been waiting for days on the Yugoslav side to enter Macedonia, were apparently forced back into Kosovo by the Serbian police.  Their whereabouts are unknown and Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about their fate.

"The treatment of Kosovo refugees in Macedonia has been deplorable" said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "There are clear international norms that must be adhered to and the treatment of refugees in Macedonia is an extremely troubling development."

Until Tuesday, April 6, as many as 65,000 refugees had been trapped for days in Blace, a muddy "no-mans land" between the borders of Kosovo and Macedonia, waiting to enter Macedonia.  Refugees were held in appalling conditions, with no shelter, humanitarian relief, or medical assistance.   During Tuesday night, most of the refugees in this area were forcibly cleared by the Macedonian authorities.  The passports, blankets, and clothing found at the empty site today by UNHCR officials indicates that refugees were removed in haste. Refugees were given no information about where they were being taken and did not give their consent to be moved.  UNHCR and IOM  officials were not informed about plans to move the refugees and were not present during the relocation.

Reports now indicate that thousands of refugees were taken to the new transit center at Brazda.  Some were transported out of Macedonia by plane to Turkey, and thousands of others were taken by bus to Albania and Greece.  A Human Rights Watch representative in Skopje reported that the whereabouts of an estimated 10,000 refugees apparently relocated during this period remains unknown.    Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that those transported out of Macedonia were not registered prior to their departure and that UNHCR was given no information about their identities.  In some cases, family groups were not allowed to travel together, and no proper records were kept to facilitate family reunification.

In addition, the whereabouts of a large number of persons who had been waiting inside Kosovo at the Jazince and Blace border crossings is unknown.  International monitors reported receiving telephone calls throughout the day from persons who had been waiting at the border and were then forced to go back to Pristina by Serbian police units. Human Rights Watch visited the Macedonia-Yugoslav border crossings at Jazince and Blace today.  Both were empty of people and reportedly closed on the Serbian side.

Human Rights Watch urgently calls on the Macedonian government to keep its borders open and to uphold its obligations under international refugee law. Refugees should not be moved out of Macedonia against their will, and every effort should be made to keep families together. UNHCR and relief agencies should be given unhindered access to provide assistance and protection to the refugees.

For further information contact:
Fred Abrahams (1-212) 216-1270
Holly Cartner (1-212) 216-1277

For further information about violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Kosovo, see the Human Rights Watch website at on the "Crisis in Kosovo" page.
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Source: Human Rights Watch

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