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The return of the children – R efugees are allowed to return to Greece for the first time in 55 years

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"Macedonia was born Greek" it says on a huge sign on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia. A group of old men look at it and shake their heads. They are refugees from Greece, Slav Macedonians born in Greece who fled during and after the Greek Civil War. Nervously clutching their passports they are about to enter Greece for the first time in 55 years. They don’t seem to quite believe it – only after the passport control do they allow themselves to smile. Later there are more smiles and a lot of laughs as they arrive in Setina (or Skopos as it is known in Greek today) their birth village.

79-year-old Stojan Trpchevski is like a child again, as he points out the school, the place where he stole fruits and the river he used to swim in. He fled as a 16 years old, but his memories are still vivid and detailed. "I am both sad and happy to be back", he says "after so many years my home is ruined, it is now a place for goats and sheep, and my relatives are no longer alive". But he keeps smiling, and despite being away for so many years still meets people who remember him. Stojan fled in 1944 to the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, today Macedonia. Later he joined the Democratic Army in the Greek Civil War. He has lived in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital for the last 55 years, he never returned to Greece. Together with his son and other refugees he has rented a bus and come for the first time to visit his village.

In Northern Greece there is a large Slav minority, who identify themselves as Macedonians. During the Greek Civil War (1946 – 49) both Greeks and Slav Macedonians fled. The Greek refugees have since been allowed to return, but not the Slav Macedonians- not even for a visit. It was feared that they would stir up desires for autonomy. Stojans visit has been made possible by a change in policy. In July 2003 the Greek government announced that all refugees would be allowed a 20-day visit between the 10th of August and the end of October this year. Today the refugees who are still alive are old people, who fled as children, they laugh at the suggestion that they are a security threat to Greece. Most of them don’t want to return to live in Greece, they now have children and grandchildren were they settled, but they want to visit their birth villages.

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