UNHCR Briefing Notes: FYR of Macedonia, Southern Africa refugee statistics, CAR/Congo
1. Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
More than half of the 10,000 residents who fled fighting at Aracinovo, a largely ethnic Albanian village just outside the capital of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), have returned since Sunday. Of the 5,000 who have gone back to the village, about 2,500 are staying overnight, while the rest are cleaning their houses during the day. Few of the estimated 250 ethnic Macedonians families residing in the village have indicated willingness to return. They only go back to pick up their belongings.
Aracinovo was heavily devastated in June during intense fighting between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. Since clashes broke out in FYROM in February, more than 120,000 people have been displaced - including more than 76,000 who went to Kosovo. Around 19,000 refugees have returned, mainly to Skopje.
On Thursday, UNHCR dispatched two trucks carrying supplies, including 130 mattresses, 100 jerry cans, 100 kitchen sets, 100 hygiene parcels and 1050 plastic sheeting, for 100 families. This marks the start of UNHCR's assistance to returnee communities in Macedonia.
UNHCR is helping civilians returning voluntarily to areas where safety is relatively assured. UNHCR's special envoy in the region, Eric Morris, has called on donors to help repair and rebuild destroyed houses. The refugee agency is also leading the UN coordinated efforts to help authorities restore electricity and other utilities in Aracinovo. In addition to material assistance, UNHCR field teams have been present daily in Aracinovo to help build confidence among the communities. It is particularly important to stabilize the ethnic Macedonian community, which is in a minority situation in Aracinovo. All efforts must be made to help them return to their homes.
2. Southern Africa refugee statistics
The global refugee population in Southern Africa is on the rise. The number of new asylum seekers in the region has increased by 7,8% over the first six months of 2001, from 320,563 to 345,720. The increase is even higher at 9.6 percent if one includes the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, which are also part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and together host 72% of the area's refugees.
This upward trend is mainly due to protracted crises in the region showing little signs of respite, such as the Angolan civil conflict and the slow progress in the Congo and Burundi peace processes. In Zambia alone, new arrivals over the past six months total 17,900 DRC refugees and 9,100 Angolan refugees. Existing camps and settlements have been extended, sometimes stretching beyond their capacity. Despite the ongoing peace process in the DRC, arrivals of Congolese into Northern Zambia have increased again recently to about 200 per week, after regressing for several months. This may be explained by the fact that people fear further violence in the wake of the retreat of foreign armies. There is also still a steady trickle into Zambia of Angolans from Moxico and Cuando Cubango provinces.
The global increase in Southern Africa is particularly sharp in countries with traditionally small refugee populations like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi. In Zimbabwe, the refugee population more than doubled from 4,127 to 8,416 (+ 103%) between January and June this year, and Mozambique, saw an increase of 85%, from 2,278 to 4,216, while new arrivals in Malawi rose by 23%, from 3,900 to 4,810. The three countries continue receiving a small but regular inflow of asylum seekers from the Great Lakes (DRC, Rwanda and Burundi), including Rwandans who may have been on the move since the 1994 genocide, circulating through other countries before reaching Southern Africa. The number of Burundi refugees in Southern Africa however remains small (5,630, of which 2,008 in Zambia) compared to staggering numbers in Tanzania (388,502) and the DRC (19,775).
In Namibia the global refugee population has so far increased by 9% in 2001. However new arrivals, mainly from Angola, have dropped to 300 per month on the average, down from 500 last year. This drop could be attributed to heavy rains, flooded rivers and the possible blocking of safe refugee routes into Namibia by various armed forces. Namibia's refugee population grew by 60% in 2000 and has now reached 30,635 at the end of June 2001.
3. Central African Republic/Congo
A UNHCR emergency team in north-eastern DRC began visiting sites for the possible transfer of nearly 15,000 CAR refugees from the small town of Zongo amid growing concerns by local DRC authorities about the presence of several hundred CAR soldiers among the refugees encamped in schools, churches and other public buildings in the town. Authorities were also worried that the refugees are living too close to the Central African Republic which they fled in June citing fears for their safety. Zongo, previously a town of 40,000, is about five minutes by motorboat from the CAR capital, Bangui across the Oubangui river.
In meetings with DRC officials early this week, UNHCR explained that the refugee agency could only arrange the transfer of civilian refugees from the town. On Wednesday, a UNHCR team visited a site at a location called Wenze, some 17 kms from Zongo, which has been proposed by local authorities for the transfer of the refugees. Many of the 25,000 refugees who fled to north-eastern DRC in June in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in the Central African Republic, are from localities south-west of Bangui. They fled with few belongings and have been living among the local population in and around Zongo in extremely difficult conditions.
Meanwhile, small numbers of CAR refugees have begun to move away from the DRC border areas and are trickling into the Republic of Congo where there are already some 1,600 new refugees in the capital Brazzaville and in the towns of Betou and Impfondo, both on the Oubangui river.
4. UNHCR welcomes the proposed US 2001 Refugee Protection Act
UNHCR welcomes the proposed Refugee Protection Act of 2001, which was introduced in the US Congress yesterday. The objective of the Act is to improve the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the US. If passed, it would reduce the likelihood that refugees will be returned to countries where they would face persecution, and would promote alternatives to detention for asylum-seekers.
UNHCR has expressed concern over the currently used expedited procedures for processing asylum claims at US entry points. To safeguard against the erroneous exclusion of asylum-seekers, the Act would limit this process to "immigration emergencies," when individual examinations are not possible. UNHCR has also urged the US not to imprison asylum seekers and to consider alternatives to detention. The proposed legislation states that it is the policy of the US not to detain asylum seekers who have established a credible fear of persecution, and specifically calls for alternatives to detention, for improved access to legal services and improved conditions in facilities that are used exclusively for Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detainees.
5. European asylum statistics for the first half of 2001
The provisional statistics for asylum-seekers in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand during the first six months of this year are now available. Overall they show a slight increase over the same period last year. By far and away the two largest groups are Afghans and Iraqis - although the Afghan figure is slightly distorted, since it includes 4,975 Afghans who appear to have sought asylum in Austria, but actually made their claims a very long way away in the Austrian embassy in Teheran. One of the other major anomalies is that Italy does not feature at all - we have not yet received any figures for this year from the Italian authorities. The countries that have received the largest numbers of asylum-seekers so far in 2001 are Germany with 41,000, the UK with 33,000 cases (which means perhaps close to 40,000 individuals), and the United States with 32,000. Only eight of the 27 countries listed have received more than 10,000 asylum-seekers during the first half of 2001.
6. Turkey/asylum seekers
On Wednesday, UNHCR received permission to go to the Turkish side of the border with Greece. Yesterday a protection team arrived in the area to try and shed further light on the continuing mysteries surrounding a group of 200 Africans who allegedly were shuttled back and forth across the small river - known as the Meric in Turkey and the Evros in Greek. They were able to confirm that a group of approximately this number were taken to the river by the Turkish authorities around 2 weeks ago. However the current whereabouts of the group still remain unclear, although it seems a significant proportion have found their way back to Istanbul. The Turkish border forces have been very cooperative with the mission, which is continuing today. Last week, a similar mission was undertaken by a UNHCR protection team along the Greek side of the border. A couple of the missing Africans are believed to be among a group who arrived by boat on two Greek islands. UNHCR is currently interviewing them.
This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.