Getting them home will be the biggest humanitarian effort since the end of the Second World War. Thousands will probably spend winter in refugee camps, regardless of a peace agreement. Those who were forced out to neighbouring states know the way home. Many who are in a position to move are preparing to set off under their own steam.
But aid agencies fear the consequences of a a mass return and that conditions in Kosovo - where homes and villages were torched and shelled, crops destroyed and infrastructure demolished - could be worse than in the squalid refugee camps along the borders of Macedonia and Albania.
As far as emergency help is concerned, the biggest concern is for those trapped in Kosovo. There are credible reports that many who took to the hills are suffering severe malnutrition. "Once they have been dealt with we can start looking at the repatriation of refugees from Macedonia and Albania," said Lyndall Sachs of the UN High Commission for Refugees in London.
Trevor Rowe, of the World Food Programme, said: "The people inside Kosovo have had no aid ... since air strikes began. We know that those trapped inside are hungry and are running out of food." One million ready meals in daily ration packs have been prepared and there is enough canned and dried food in storage to feed 800,000 people for six weeks.
But in the absence of any harvest this year or of any functioning food- distribution system, Kosovo and much of the rest of Yugoslavia will rely on external aid for a long time to come.
The UNHCR - criticised for ill-preparedness in setting up the tented cities and flying refugees out of Macedonia - is implementing a "concept paper" which sets out plans for positioning food, medicine, fuel and construction materials. It is believed to identify seven centres near the province's biggest towns where returning people would be housed, fed and cared for in the initial stages.
The biggest immediate threat is the carpet of Serb mines on the border. The UN will have to find routes not littered with mines, booby traps and unexploded bombs. Nato troops preparing to go into Kosovo as part of an international security presence will have to be preceded by mineand bomb-disposal teams.Reuse content