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Aid agencies caught off guard

The number of refugees flooding back into Kosovo is expected to hit 200,000 only 10 days after the KFOR's peacekeeping operation was laun...

The number of refugees flooding back into Kosovo is expected to hit 200,000 only 10 days after the KFOR’s peacekeeping operation was launched, catching humanitarian aid workers unprepared.

“The stream of refugees returning to Kosovo showed no signs of abating,” UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Tuesday. “The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) expects the figure of Refugees to cross 200,000 by the end of Tuesday.” Some 175,000 refugees have so far returned to their war-shattered province since the KFOR began deploying in the Yugoslav province on June 12. Humanitarian aid workers in Kosovo have been caught unprepared by the heavier-than-expected influx of refugees heading back to Kosovo. “We were expecting about 400,000 which is about half the total refugee population in the area to return in the first three months and what we’ve had is about 170,000 in the first 10 days,” said Paula Ghedini, UNHCR spokeswoman in Pristina. Kukes, the town in Albania which accommodated many of thosefleeing, now has only around 800 refugees left, she said. The rest have re-entered Kosovo. Macedonia, Ghedini noted, was a different case, because many of the refugees there “were essentially forced onto buses and trains and came from urban areas”. Over 109,000 people have trekked back from Albania, while 60,000 have left Macedonia, according to UNHCR officials. To cope with the influx, officials from humanitarian agencies met in Skopje on Tuesday to try to put together a repatriation plan and look at “how quickly we can move people back to at least the urban areas”, Ghedini said. “Right now we are looking into organised transport back. One of the modalities could obviously be the train which was used and which is now again functional,” she said.

Some 335,200 Kosovars remain in Albania, 172,500 in Macedonia and 69,500 in Montenegro according to UNHCR estimates. Meanwhile, the movement of Serbs out of Kosovo continues to worry the UNHCR, but officials said some 1,200 Serbs have also returned to theprovince.

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First published on: 24-06-1999 at 12:00:00 am
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