Kosovar exodus: The hunt for asylum

Originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian. 

Yesterday Albin Kurti, the leader of Vetevendosje and also head of the Commission on Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to Mihaly Balla, the chairman of the Hungarian Foreign Affairs Committee. The letter asks for the Hungarian government to not mistreat the approximately 5000 Kosovar asylum seekers being held in detention in refugee camps and prisons until their status is determined.

As Kosovo attempts to prepare itself for the long road of EU accession, the issue of illegal asylum seekers from Kosovo remains a problem. Last yearapproximately 500-700 Kosovars applied for asylum every month, but for some reason there were significantly more applicants at the end of 2012, with a high point of 1395 applicants in October 2012. The majority of these applications are denied, since asylum is only granted to citizens of “crisis zones,” or countries where essential human rights are violated. That doesn’t stop people from trying though.

This morning Zeri broke a story about an organized ring of traffickers based in Kosovo, who illegally transport people to the nearest Schengen country – in the case of Kosovo, Hungary. Asylum seekers pay thousands of euros to their transporters, on long and often dangerous journeys. In 2009 fifteen Kosovars died trying to cross the Tisza river between Serbia and Hungary.

In order to handle the flux of asylum seekers from Kosovo, some countries are implementing “fast track” programs, that ensure that asylum seekers don’t spend extended periods of time languishing in detention centers. In March of this year, Switzerland implemented a 48-hour policy, which ensures that asylum seekers from Kosovo and Georgia are granted a decision within two days. The majority of those decisions are negative.

This morning, 110 Kosovars were flown back into Kosovo from Hungary. Bizarrely enough, the Minister of Internal Affairs Bajram Rexhepi and the Hungarian ambassador Lorent Balla were waiting for them. They explained to the crowd that illegal immigration is wrong, which is strange, because I’m sure that they know illegal immigration is wrong and that their chances for being granted asylum were very slim. It’s true that Kosovo is no longer a crisis zone and its citizens are not in any imminent threat. But that’s not why hundreds of Kosovars try to flee the country every month. Unemployment and poverty are a plague in this country, and it’s not changing fast enough. So perhaps instead of being lectured on why they shouldn’t go, they should be given reasons to stay.

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