Although they usually have two passports, Serbs living in Kosovo and Metohija do not travel much abroad. Namely, visa liberalization does not apply for Kosovo passports, neither for passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the MIA of Serbia. In front of foreign embassies in Pristina, there are lines of Albanians and Serbs waiting together for their visa appointments and agreeing at least in one thing – they are second-class citizens.
By: Jovana Stojanović
Almost every morning in front of the building in Azem Jashanica Street No. 66 in Pristina, a long line of people is formed. Namely, at this address, visas are issued for three countries, Austria, Switzerland and Germany.
At the time we arrived, there were about 30 people in the courtyard and a lot more in the street. The young and the elderly, Albanians and Serbs, members of other Kosovo communities, are pressing next to each other and waiting to be summoned. Our interlocutor, who wanted to remain anonymous, is also in this line. We will present him as Aleksandar.
This young Serb from Mitrovica has been waiting for a visa for two months and hopes that he will soon be able to hit the road to Germany. In his passport, issued by the Republic of Serbia, there are two words that are disabling the visa-free regime for him – Coordination Directorate. That is why he has to stand in front of the Embassy.
One of the most important problems for the local Serbs are travel documents. Namely, for persons living in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, there are special passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia.
When Serbia’s visa regime was abolished in 2009, this privilege was circumvented by Kosovo Serbs. In fear of possible illegal migrations of persons from Kosovo and Metohija, by the Regulation EC No 539/2001, the Council of the European Union requested the establishment of the Coordination Directorate and exemption from a visa-free regime, which was then done.
By 2009, passports of the Republic of Serbia used to be the same for all, including for Kosovo Serbs who received their passports from the MIA in Raška. Given that the passports issued by 2009 are expiring, many Serbs are wondering what to do further and how to get new travel documents.
The problem is that holders of this passport do not have the opportunity to extend it. Many believe that a possible solution could be obtaining a passport that would be issued to them in some of the cities outside of Kosovo and Metohija. But that means they must deceive the system.
When a person from Kosovo requests a change of residence, police controls are far stricter and more frequent than when someone from Central Serbia wants to do it. For example, when someone wants to change the place of residence from Raška to Kraljevo, this can be completed in a few days, without any major checks.
On the other hand, this will not be the case for someone who wants to transfer their residence from Kosovo and Metohija to the city of Kraljevo. The MIA of Kraljevo will go on a few occasions to make sure that the person really lives there. In addition, they will require confirmations from neighbors or relatives who own the place that the person is trying to register at.
All those who are waiting in front of the Embassy know how complicated the process of obtaining a visa is. For traveling to most EU countries, passport holders of the Coordination Directorate are sent to embassies in Pristina. This is testified by our interlocutor, Aleksandar, who is currently awaiting visa approval. His story is similar to many other stories, and it comes down to leaving the country in search of a better life.
Aleksandar emphasizes “I have decided to leave Kosovska Mitrovica because I think that this city, although beautiful and very attractive to me, does not provide any chances for a normal life and prosperity.” Aleksandar says that he knew that a secured job in his field was awaiting him, in the company owned by his relatives, and this is what made his decision to leave the country easier.
To apply for a visa, first you need to schedule an appointment. This is mainly done electronically, through websites and templates that all embassies have. In the meantime, there is a collection of documents.
If, for example, you have a Kosovo passport, then you need a whole bunch of documents such as: Kosovo citizenship, an excerpt from the Kosovo tax service, an extract – the equivalent of a birth certificate, a common household certificate, marriage certificate, work contract, report from the bank about account balance in the previous 6 months, etc.
Please note that business and tourist visas vary in certain documents more or less, while for the application itself the visa fee of 60 euros is paid.
Aleksandar applied at the German Embassy in Pristina. He is still waiting for the visa approval. Namely, the deadline for replying is one year from the date of sending the request. This young man sent an application for a visa in an electronic form.
He further states: “In a return email in which the German Embassy confirmed that I successfully applied, it was written that I should not send other emails because it would make the process more difficult for them. So, it’s much better to wait for them to tell me when my appointment is, and the term will definitely be determined. “
A certain time frame is that embassies approve visas within a period of 60 days. This is not a rule, so it happens that some people wait for a few months, and certain people get visas in an accelerated procedure.
As an example, we will take the Embassy of Italy in Pristina. On its website, this Embassy gives an option to schedule a term for submission of documents only in 3-4 months.
If you are planning to fly to this country and have a passport of the Coordination Directorate or a Kosovo passport, start thinking about it at the beginning of the new year, right after the holidays. Even if you get an appointment, it does not mean you will get a visa.
Joking aside, in order to find out how often Serbs from North Kosovo travel and where, we did a survey on a sample of 300 people through the “Google Forms” platform, where questionnaires were distributed through social networks.
In addition, we examined the views of the citizens of North Kosovo and Metohija regarding visa liberalization and asked them which passports they possess. Therefore, 55% of respondents own a passport issued by the Coordination Directorate.
Then, 10% own a Kosovo passport and 10% own a passport issued by the Republic of Serbia in the cities of central Serbia. They mostly travel for tourism, 89.7%, while 17.2% travel for work and 6.9% for studies.
Among other things, to the question where they travel most frequently, the Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija responded: Montenegro (72.4%), European countries (41.4%), Macedonia (27.6%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (13.8%), Greece and Turkey 6.9% each and other. These travels are mostly because of tourism, which is reduced to our neighbor – Montenegro, because of the ease of travel and the former common state.
A mitigating circumstance is the possibility of entering this country only with an ID card.
On the other hand, the passports of the Coordination Directorate are not recognized by the Kosovo authorities. So, a person who holds a passport of the Coordination Directorate cannot fly from the Pristina airport. And when a person gets a visa, they fly from Skopje or Belgrade, because in that case they know that they will depart to the desired destination for sure.
Although dual citizenship is guaranteed by the provisions of the Law on Citizenship, Coordination Directorate passport holders cannot fly from this airport.
A journalist of the Kossev portal, Milica Andrić Rakić, used to deal with this topic while she worked in the non-governmental organization Aktiv. Milica explains that in both systems, in the Kosovo and Serbian legislative systems, there is a right to dual citizenship.
She then points out that this right will be respected, given that Kosovo Albanians have a huge diaspora and it is not in their interest to condition their citizens to have only one citizenship.
“Whoever remains here will probably have double documentation. I believe that Serbian travel documents must be equated with the rest. The Coordination Directorate should be disassembled as a body within the Ministry of the Internal Affairs and another way should be found for issuance of these documents,” says Andrić Rakić.
Asked about what it takes for passports of the Coordination Directorate to become visa-free, Milica says that “If it wanted, Serbia could find ways to eliminate some of the concerns that the European Union had when it asked for the passports of the Coordination Directorate to be excluded from the visa liberalization regime.”
Then, she states that this refers to the specific checking of data on the ground and the possibility of illegal migration. “Serbia could not guarantee the accuracy of these data because it did not have police in the territory of Kosovo that would guarantee that people live there.”
The danger of illegal migration ceases to be a valid argument, bearing in mind that Pristina has proven that this is no longer a threat. There is a fear of illegal migration and social change in the European Union, which can significantly hinder the obtaining of visa liberalization.
What remains is a negotiation between the European Union and Serbia regarding the guarantee of data. “This would require a fairly flexible approach with the Kosovo Police. This is something feasible, but a huge political will is needed, for which there is currently no precondition in Serbia. ”
Interesting information on the number of visas issued is available at schengenvisainfo.com. According to this data, Kosovo is ranked 25th in the world by the number of visa applications in the Schengen countries.
According to data for 2017, embassies in Pristina received slightly more than 90,000 applications, and a total of 63,424 visas were issued. The majority of applications was for Germany, slightly more than 29,000. Out of this number, 23,573 visas were approved.
Political analyst from Pristina, Shpetim Gashi, believes that visa liberalization of Kosovo passports is being blocked by several EU member states led by France.
He says: “It seems that these countries are afraid of mass immigration from Kosovo if they approve visa liberalization. However, corruption and the rule of law are also reasons for the delay. ”
Another interesting question is which passport has a stronger value, i.e. passability, Kosovo passport or passport of the Coordination Directorate. Milica Andrić is convinced that we will pass better with the Coordination Directorate passport.
Among other things, she states that holders of this passport can travel visa-free to several states that are not available to Kosovo passports, including Russia, China, the countries of South America, some African countries, etc.
In addition, Milica believes that there will be an increased trend of obtaining Kosovo passports in the event of the liberalization of the Kosovo passport, especially with young Serbs.
Shpetim Gashi also believes that the Kosovo passport is one of the least valuable in the world. “Firstly, you need visas for almost all countries. Secondly, there are a number of countries, such as Spain, who do not recognize these documents at all.
Serbian passport issued by the Coordination Directorate is similar to the Kosovo one, because visas are only necessary for these two passports in Europe. This passport is much more useful than Kosovo passport because it is recognized by all countries. For example, you can go to Spain with a Coordination Directorate passport, while you cannot go with a Kosovo passport. ”
“Kosovo will not receive visa liberalization as long as organized crime leads the institutions and while war crime convicts are placed on high government positions,” believes Shpetim Gashi.
This analyst believes that one day when the visa liberalization comes, it will apply equally to Kosovo and passports issued by the Coordination Directorate. He thinks that this could happen in two years at the latest.
The passport of the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia could become visa-free, if the abovementioned EU regulation, Article 4 was amended.
In other words, if the special indication that stands for the Republic of Serbia, which refers to the visa regime of the Coordination Directorate passport, would be omitted. Otherwise, Article 3 allows free movement through the Schengen zone. The countries that have the right to do so are listed there.
The procedure lasts for at least 6 months. This would mean that if the visa liberalization of Kosovo passports comes in, it is necessary to start the second process that would relate to the change of this regulation, Milica Andrić explains.
An interesting analysis of how much passports are worth is available on the Henley and Partners passport index website. According to this estimate, a Kosovo passport is ranked 95th on the scale from 1 to 104, and is as worthwhile as the passports of Congo and Sri Lanka.
A Serbian passport is on the 38th and Albanian is in the 48th place. The most valuable passports are Japanese, South Korean and German, whose owners can travel in as many as 188 countries without visa. Passport issued by the Coordination Directorate is probably not recognized as a document, so it is not included in this list.
Last year, the non-governmental organization Aktiv from North Mitrovica announced interesting data on the number of issued passports in Kosovo and Metohija. According to their analysis entitled “Special Passports Zone” in the period from August 2009 to June 2016 the Coordination Directorate issued 97,809 passports.
On the other hand, by August 2016, the Kosovo government issued 2,586 passports for the municipalities of North Mitrovica, Zvečan, Leposavić and Zubin Potok.
In another study conducted by the non-governmental organization Crno-beli svet from Leposavić, entitled “Has the Brussels Agreement forgotten the citizens?”, it is noted that there are significant differences regarding the possession of passports among residents of the North and South of Kosovo.
Passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Republic of Serbia, for which a visa is required, are owned by 34% of the respondents from the North and 17.6% of the respondents from the South. Visa-free passports issued by the Police Directorate for Kosovska Mitrovica, or any city in Kosovo, are owned by 21% of the participants of this research from the North and 12% from the South of Kosovo. A Kosovo passport is owned by 6.3% of the respondents from the South and 8.0 from the North.
Among other things, this research states that passport of the Republic of Serbia issued in the cities of central Serbia is owned by 2.67% of the respondents from the North and 1.67% from the South of Kosovo.
Many people from Kosovo still do not need to be in visa lines. The media in Pristina reported a few years ago that many politicians, businessmen and other influential people have Albanian citizenship and passports that are not subject to the visa regime with the EU.
For example, Tirana assigned Albanian citizenship to Ramush Haradinaj, Fatmir Limaj, Shpend Ahmeti and others, by special decrees. We did not manage to find out what kind of passports political representatives of Serbs from Kosovo have, but not many people here believe that they failed to get to visa-free Serbian passports in the meantime.
We were unable to find out what the position of the Office for KiM was when it comes to passports and visa liberalization. Even after more than a month of waiting for them to provide us with an interlocutor for this topic, we did not get any answer.
They expressed their views on this topic several times so far, either through the media or through their own press releases. In one of its earlier reports, the Kossev Portal published their following statement:
“Some countries discriminate against the owners of these documents, treating them differently from other citizens of Serbia. Competent institutions of the Republic of Serbia continuously point to the unacceptability of this form of discrimination.”
Despite constant political turmoil, two systems and many misfortunes, life goes on. The passport issue is not being resolved. Among other things, many problems that the Serbian community faces are also shared by the Albanian side.
Long waiting times, lines in front of the embassies, stress when collecting documents, and the money spent on all of this depict the visa application process. Only people from this area, regardless of whether they own a Kosovo or passport of the Coordination Directorate one, have no right to travel through the Schengen zone.
It seemed that the visa regime for Kosovo passports would end last year. However, in July 2018, the European Union Parliament rejected the proposal of the European Commission that recommended the lifting of the visa regime.
Today, in line with the German Embassy in Pristina, there are many Aleksandars, Shpetims, Milicas, and all those who may be searching for some European dream, or just want to go to this country for a holiday.
This article was created under the project “Development of Investigative Journalism for Journalists Reporting in Serbian Language in Kosovo” implemented by CBS and InTER. This grant is financed by the project ‘Support to the Civil Society in Kosovo’, funded by the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and managed by the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF). The content and recommendations made do not represent the official position of the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Kosovo Foundation for Civil Society (KCSF). The article is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the views of CBS and InTER.