Migration from Kosovo has been a part of several difficult steps of development that the country has undergone. It has been patterned gradually from being politically driven to economically driven but is still affected by internal political turbulences. From the recent studies from UNDP, one out of every four Kosovars currently lives abroad.
The last massive migration from Kosovo was in 1999 when people were fleeing war in order to survive. Many of the Kosovo Albanians (inhabitants of the erstwhile Yugoslavian province of Kosovo who mainly speak Albanian) were politically persecuted long before the war, hence they had to leave the country in advance. Similarly, there were other cases of those who had family ties abroad and moved.
The war migrants were refugees and were treated well in the destination countries. They were helped by different international organisations to escape the country. Different forms of support, including financial resources, were offered to them in order to feel safe and secure. Whereas, the politically persecuted ones (those that were political and human rights activists) were usually men and migrating on their own seeking asylum in another country.
Before 1999, Kosovo was considered by ex-Yugoslavia (that by 1991 consisted of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia (including regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina) and Slovenia) an ‘Autonomous Province’ of the Serbian Republic within the Yugoslav state, “but its constitutional status was still to be determined by the Serbian parliament.” The Kosovo Albanians were treated as a minority and had no right to their own republic. Even though they were given the rights to some schools and cultural institutions, there was a lot of control imposed over them and their institutions and there were a lot of harassments by the Serb security police. They felt threatened, underrepresented and economically disadvantaged by the Serbs. As a result, many left the country and went to countries such as Turkey. This dissatisfaction was also manifested with protests and a lot of tension between the two groups. Serbs took over their possession many of the Kosovo’s institutions such as radio and TV. They closed newspapers, libraries, theatres, museums, etc. They also sacked predominantly ethnic Albanian teachers from schools. The tension reached the limit and erupted into a war conflict in 1998.
During the war in 1999 many Kosovo Albanians were killed and raped and the country was destroyed and burnt. The war ended by the intervention of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) air strikes against Serbian forces. When the situation settled, many of the Kosovo Albanian emigrants were returning home. They had high hopes of the security in Kosovo and believed that the situation will improve eventually. Nevertheless, when they returned, they faced problems such as unemployment as the country was in transitional development. As any other post war country, Kosovo faced a lot of challenges in building its own institutions and building the houses that were destroyed during the war from scratch. During these developments, just after the war Kosovo was administered by United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and later by European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) that was trying to help in general transition processes, but focusing their support on legislation and effective implementation of laws.
Eight years after the war, Kosovo was considered ready to take its own powers and administer itself without the help of the international community, or at least limited help. The international security troops were brought back from Kosovo as security was believed to be sufficiently good. In 2008, the state of Kosovo was born and proclaimed an independent and sovereign state, ready to take its own initiatives, border control and become recognised by everybody. The migration after the war until recently was mostly family reunification, for the purposes of education and temporary work abroad, and because of poverty, corruption and high unemployment. Many grants and funds were awarded by different international organisations and Kosovo’s government to Kosovar students to study abroad in order to increase capacities and return to contribute in Kosovo in different areas. Since the independence proclamation, Kosovo was gradually consolidating its statehood, but with political, social and economic difficulties. By 2015 it has been recognised by US and major European Union countries except Greece, Spain, Romania, Cyprus, and Slovakia. But, this has not been enough to make it part of the major European treaties and part of EU. The state building components such as health, education, economy, politics, rule of law, stability, security, standard of living have not developed to that level as to make it part of EU. The extreme poverty, deadlock of political and legal system and corruption has brought darkness into Kosovo’s population and the normal function of the state.
A recent and sudden wave of migration from Kosovo has likely been caused by this chaotic situation. Kosovars are the second largest group after Syrians to have migrated lately. It is estimated that 100,000 Kosovars left the country from August, 2014 to February, 2015. Because of the agreement between governments of Kosovo and Serbia in 2013 to “remove restrictions and ease the traveling rules” many Kosovars migrated through Serbia to Hungary and from Hungary mostly to Germany. Basically they were heading to Schengen countries. As their migration into the Schengen area was illegal, they had to use illegal routes to enter and hence, they used criminal groups to help them. They spent hundreds and thousands of euros to migrate, even though many of them were stopped during their journey and those who reached the countries of destination were deported later.
There are many factors conspiring of why this sudden migration happened, the situation has raised many debates not only nationally, but also internationally. According to different international media such as Reuters, Voice of America, Aljazeera, DW, Kosovo’s exodus happened as a result of poverty, unemployment and political turbulence and this remains the most usual debate among the population and analysts. However, many others say that this has been inflicted from the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia to free movement between the two countries. Kosovars saw this as an opportunity to find easier channels to migrate to EU countries. And so they did. This desire to migrate has accumulated for many years due to the high rate of unemployment reaching 35.1% unemployed of active people. Political changes and corruption seem to have demotivated people thus, they headed to other countries for better life opportunities.
Other theories are that many people wanted to migrate, mostly to Germany because they heard that Germany is looking for foreign workers and accepting refugees. Therefore, Kosovars saw this as a good opportunity to go and find work.
Kosovo has a very young population: There are many young Kosovars who finish their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and remain without a job. Out of this, economic policy questions may raise such as is there more demand and less supply in the labour market or there is a mismatch of skills of the potential labour with the jobs offered? Should there be a revision of the academic curriculum and the fields offered to study in Kosovo, or are the choices imposed indirectly to Kosovars of what to study? These remain some questions that would bring some interesting facts.
The latest occurrences in migration explained above show that there have been ongoing push and pull factors that have influenced migration from Kosovo. The push factors may have been based on the idea of maximising the utilities considering the everyday difficult life experiences and limited opportunities, and the pull factors such as better life opportunities offered by other countries. These factors would explain the complexity of the influences of migration from Kosovo best, without excluding the influence of the global trends and developments. Networking with relatives who live abroad continues to have a huge impact in incentivising migration from Kosovo. The culture of migration in Kosovo has remained affluent as the remittances continue to have a huge impact in helping Kosovo’s economy.
The economic factors influencing migration from Kosovo are interrelated with the political developments in Kosovo: The political sphere in Kosovo is facing a lot of tension, there is a lot of pressure and disagreement between the governing coalition and opposition, i.e. when making any deal or cooperation with Serbia. These disagreements evolved into verbal and physical violence among the members of these political entities and are blocking the parliamentary procedures and with this the normal developments. Many Kosovars argue in media that they feel victimised from the political corruption; they say that only those who have ties with the specific powerful political party have a job and money. Another part of the society is in poverty and remains bystander of what is happening. Additionally, in this situation, Kosovo is undergoing a political crisis in addition to that of economic one and hence, there is a lot of imbalance and instability in the functions of the state and many seem terrified.
Considering the situation explained above, it seems that Kosovo could benefit from cooperation, first, between the political elite, and the cooperation of the political elite with the population. Community engagement would bring light to the real needs and the ways to fulfil them.
The increase on security measures and implementation of rule of law could decrease the crime rates and corruption. Better Investment in monitoring and inspection could increase efficacy in public institutions and help to lessen corruption.
It seems as well likely that an effective and efficient use of resources could boost the economic development. This could include the increase of investments and incentives to open new businesses and as a result could help to open new employment places.
Better investment in education could help in determining the labour market and fulfilling the labour gaps. The policies are there, but effective implementation is very important in making all these components work.
Finally, further developments are left to be seen and the migration situation as well. Let’s hope that a strong cooperation between all the entities in Kosovo would help in revitalising the state and the dream of an effective implementation of the rule of laws remains.
About the Author
Vlora Berbatovci is a PhD candidate at London Metropolitan University researching on the influence of employment skills support and inequalities at work in migration. She has previously worked as a researcher for The Children’s Society, London Borough of Redbridge, World Bank and United Nations Development Programme.
Cover image ‘Pristina‘ by Marco Fieber