It is estimated that over the past two months 50,000 Kosovars have left their country to migrate to the European Union countries. However, since August 2014, this number would rise to 100,000 people. The busiest road is the one crossing Subotica and Palic, Serb towns near the Hungarian borders.
These figures are contradicted; the reason is the Pristina government which nevertheless considers that the number of migrants represents a heavy burden for Kosovo.
A Daunting Task for the Authorities
The prime minister of Kosovo, Isa Mustafa, said that migration was a heavy burden for the authorities and that a series of measures are taken to stop this serious issue by creating better living conditions.
On February 12th, Isa Mustafa announced to the microphones of the Beta news agency that “measures will be developed with the Kosovar Ministry of the Interior to halt the departure of Kosovar citizens” and that the authorities wanted to inform Kosovars that they could not get asylum in EU countries for economic reasons.
The Kosovo government is also preparing an economic development program to prevent citizens from leaving and currently has 50 million euros devoted to agriculture development, said the prime minister, adding that more funds could be necessary.
According to him, Kosovo is ready to receive the citizens who have tried to reach the EU. “We are ready to accept the return of the people who have already left. It’s not easy, because they are many,” says Isa Mustafa.
Kosovo, the Poorest Country in the Region
According to an analysis conducted by Radio Television Kosovo, the incomes of public sector employees are approximately 100 euros higher than the neighboring countries (Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania).
Yet Kosovo is the poorest country in the region: about 30% of the population lives in poverty, 10% in extreme poverty, living on less than a dollar a day.
According to official figures, the unemployment rate is around 30%, but other sources estimate that 40% of the population is unemployed, a figure that rises to almost 56% among young people between 15 and 24 years old. The latter group are the ones deciding to immigrate the most.
Cooperation with the EU
Officers of the Hungarian, Serbian, Austrian, and German police met on February 9th to discuss the prevention of mass emigration.
The police chiefs of these countries decided to intensify cooperation and border controls. At the Serbian-Hungarian border, the number of police officers will be increased, the gendarmes and the general police will be monitoring and identifying smugglers.
German specialists will also provide assistance regarding the identification of forged documents and the management of thermal imaging system along the border line.
In addition to economic reasons, some analysts in the region believe that the activities – very lucrative – of some criminal groups that organize the immigration process to the EU are pushing the Kosovars to emigrate.
EU Urges Kosovo to Act
On February 11th, the European Commission called on Pristina to react to the sudden and massive departure of migrants to the EU by monitoring the borders, among other counter-measures.
The EU executive added that the number of Kosovo illegal migrants seeking asylum in the EU has increased by 40% since December, exceeding the growth of the other large groups – migrants from Syria and Afghanistan.
According to Natasha Bertaud, spokesman of the Commission, Kosovo needs to boost border control, intensify information campaigns on the rights of Kosovar citizens, and strengthen cooperation with neighboring countries though which those migrants are travelling.
“We are discussing these issues with the authorities of the country, and we are also including the dialog on liberating visa regime [between the EU and Kosovo],” said the spokesman.
The Kosovo Assembly has adopted a special resolution for the government to put an end to illegal immigration. More than 40 million euros has been released to create new jobs.
At the same time, the president Atifete Jahjaga, started visiting the municipalities where most migrants leave to talk about the problems they face.
As a counter-measure to stop the bleeding, the government decided on February 5th to form a committee in order to consider the cancellation of all debts vis-à-vis the institutions and public companies established between 1999 and the end of 2008. The government also plans to cancel the interest on loans to citizens and business alike after 2008.
The border zone near Subotica is the last barrier to pass before entering the European Union (EU). Recently, it has been transformed into a “pedestrian zone”. After a nightfall, groups are moving towards Hungary. The majority of those immigrants are Kosovars determined to travel illegally to any of the EU countries, including Switzerland, Germany and Belgium, where they have family – an estimation of the Kosovar diaspora counts up to 800 000 people.
According to the media of Pristina, between five and ten buses depart daily from Kosovo to Subotica, though Merdare, a crossing point to the “administrative” frontier between Serbia and Kosovo.
On the road toward Palic, a villa serves as a “reception center” for Kosovars yearning for a life in an EU country. Based on Politika sources, the house is managed by a person who has been in jail for human trafficking.