Kosovars are tired of knocking on Europe’s closed doors

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Prishtina (AFP) – Of all the passports in the world, Kosovo’s opens fewer doors than most, even doors to other parts of Europe.

“It’s a contradiction to be called European when you don’t have the right to see, touch or travel in Europe,” 27-year-old journalist Aulona Kadriu told AFP.

“I don’t see why an entire population should be locked down and isolated.”

Of the 199 countries ranked by the number of destinations their passport holders can visit according to the Henley Index, only 10 offer fewer opportunities than Kosovo. The former province of Serbia languishes along with places like Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and North Korea.

Kadriu has given up on traveling to Europe for work or leisure because she finds the hurdles Kosovars have to navigate too frustrating.

The 1.8 million citizens of this landlocked country are the only Balkan residents who need a visa to do so, and that magic pass is hard to come by.

“It’s beyond humiliation,” she grumbled.

“EU reserves”

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but is not universally recognized.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but is not universally recognised, with five EU countries among opponents Armend NIMANI AFP

Five countries of the European Union are among the opponents, alongside Serbia itself – with whom relations remain unstable – and its Russian and Chinese allies.

So the small country cheered when the European Commission – the EU’s executive body – ruled in 2018 that Kosovars should be allowed to travel freely within Europe’s 26 borderless Schengen countries.

But EU governments, which have the final say, have yet to follow suit and four years later Kosovars still need visas and the queues to get them are longer than ever.

Pensioner Igballe Kryeziu hopes to visit her children in Germany, where around half of the 800,000 Kosovars living abroad currently reside.

It took him five months and 200 euros ($210) of paperwork just to get a place in the queue outside the consulate.

Work and study permits are equally difficult to obtain.

The Berlin Embassy in Pristina said it received more than 100,000 applications in December and January alone. It only has the capacity to issue 5,500 in a full year.

“Stick But No Carrot”

Local charities believe the heist is due to reservations from EU heavyweights like France about Kosovo’s ability to fight corruption and organized crime.

Kosovars still need visas to enter other European countries and queues at embassies to get them can be long
Kosovars still need visas to enter other European countries and queues at embassies to get them can be long Armend NIMANI AFP

More than 80 local NGOs recently wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, urging him to end “the isolation of Kosovo citizens”.

Talks between Pristina and Brussels over visa-free travel have dragged on for 10 years, they pointed out – longer than it took neighboring Croatia to go from applying for EU membership to becoming a member fully fledged.

Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi told AFP that Kosovo had “done more than what was asked of it” to meet the conditions imposed on it and that the delay was mainly “due to the dynamics between the different members of the EU”.

Political analyst Donika Emini agreed.

“We saw the stick but not the carrot,” she said.

Architecture student Teuta Rexhaj, 22, had to say goodbye to her plans to study at the University of Vienna.

“It was a real blow,” she told AFP. “I belong to a generation that could not achieve its European dream.”

“When I see other young people from the Balkans traveling to Europe without any difficulty, I can’t help but think that Kosovo is being discriminated against.”