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News 12 Apr 13

EU Reports Rise in Kosovar Asylum Seekers

Small increase may set back hopes of visa-free travel to Europe’s Schengen area.

Jeton Musliu
BIRN
Pristina

The number of Kosovars seeking asylum rose slightly in 2012, new data from the EU’s statistics agency show, possibly setting back Kosovo’s hopes of gaining visa-free access to the EU Schengen area.

Data released by the EU statistic agency Eurostat in March, which covers the 27 EU member states, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, show that 10,135 Kosovars requested asylum last year, 265 more than in 2011. By comparison, applications in 2011 were more than 4,000 down on the figure in 2010.

Top Destinations for Kosovar AsylumSeekers:

France: 3,690

Germany: 2,535

Belgium: 1,740

Sweden: 1,045

Switzerland: 585

The largest number of applications was for asylum in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland.

Eurostat did not yet have complete figures on how many applicants obtained asylum. But in recent years authorities have rejected the majority of claims. Fewer than 10 per cent were accepted in 2011.

With the new figures, Kosovo remains in the top tier of the countries of origin for people seeking asylum in Europe. Kosovo is in sixth place, behind Serbia, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Afghanistan.

Alexandra Stiglmayer, from the European Initiative for Stability, said the rise in asylum seekers would damage Kosovo’s prospects of visa-free travel to the Schengen area, which comprises most of the EU.

“EU interior ministers ask the obvious question: what would the number [of asylum seekers] be without a visa requirement? Unless ways are found to bring this number down, the EU is extremely unlikely to lift the visa requirement for Kosovars,” Stiglmayer said.

Kosovo remains the only country in the Western Balkans whose citizens must first obtain visas before traveling to the Schengen area. Leaders in Brussels have been reluctant to lift the requirement out of fears that the EU will be flooded with Kosovars who attempt to stay illegally.

Reducing the number of asylum seekers continues to be one of the key requirements for Kosovo to win visa liberalisation.

A number of EU countries have been pressing to reinstate visa requirements for Western Balkan states following spikes in asylum requests from Serbia and Macedonia.

Vlora Citaku, Kosovo’s minister of European integration, downplayed the rise in asylum-seekers and insisted a the downward trend remained intact.

“Trends show that there is a serious drop, and what we need to ensure is the continued decline of this trend,” she told Prishtina Insight.

Citaku added that the government is engaging in a campaign to combat illegal migration. 

Stiglmayer said the issue is in the hands of the Kosovo government.

“Kosovo citizens deserve visa-free travel, but in order to get it, their government must convince a majority of EU governments that it is serious,” Stiglmayer said.

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