Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Waiting Game

While desperate to return home, most Kosovo refugees in camps in Albania are waiting patiently for the all-clear from international aid agencies.

A survey of Kosovo refugees in Albania has found that while desperate to return home, most families are prepared to wait for more than a month if asked to do so by KFOR and the international aid agencies. But the poll also showed up the need for an urgent public information campaign to ensure a safe and orderly return.

The survey involved 311 interviews with refugees in eight camps in Tirana, Korca and Kukes, and was carried out by between June 11 and 13 by The Institute for Policy Studies and Legal Studies (IPLS), a Tirana-based non-governmental organisation and the Washington-based American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

It found that while refugees are eager to go home immediately, they remain concerned about the conditions in which they might be returning and, in particular, their security.

78 per cent of respondents indicated that they would not return until they believed it would be safe, a position which they equated with the presence of NATO as part of the KFOR presence.

Many refugees said that they wanted NATO to escort them home and, unprompted, added that they would not return to areas controlled by Russian soldiers. The interviewers had not explicitly posed any questions about a Russian zone and Russian troops had yet to take over Pristina airport at the time of the survey.

In addition to fears about their security, refugees also expressed concerns about food, shelter, transportation and money for fuel, though answers differed between the various camps surveyed.

Refugees in camps in Tirana, the Albanian capital, and Kukes, on the Kosovo border, are primarily worried about food and transportation, while housing preoccupies refugees in camps in and around Korca in the south of Albania.

The survey found that 26 per cent of refugees had some form of transportation, so that the majority would require assistance from the aid agencies to return. Moreover, the further the camp from Kosovo, the fewer refugees had their own vehicle. Whereas some 22 per cent of refugees in Tirana had some form of transportation, this was the case for only 2 per cent of refugees in Korca.

The majority of refugees who have already begun returning to Kosovo from Albania had managed to hang on to their own vehicles, most of them tractors, and had been living in camps around Kukes.

Refugees recognised the need to be patient and indicated that they are willing to wait, if the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recommends it, the survey found.

More than half of the refugees interviewed (56.7 per cent) said that they would be prepared to wait for more than a month before returning to Kosovo, suggesting that aid agencies would be able to stagger returns over several months. However, to ensure that the process was orderly, the agencies would have to take measures to inform refugees of the situation on the ground.

"A public information campaign for all, especially those refugees from rural areas and in camps outside Tirana is essential," said Patrick Ball of AAAS. "Kosovo Albanians need to be informed and provided with the mechanisms which will allow them to participate in the discussions and decision-making of the relief agencies."

Fron Nazi is a senior editor with the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and Kim Gildersleeve is a freelance writer specialising in Eastern Europe.