Migration is inevitable, necessary, desirable.
- Inevitable due to “demographic, economic and environmental factors".
- Necessary “to meet the labor demands and ensure the availability of skills and the vibrancy of economies and societies”.
- Desirable “for migrants and host populations alike- when governed humanely and fairly as a path to realization of human potential”.
This was the first concept we were introduced with when sitting in the hot and humid headquarters of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Pristina yesterday afternoon. “You know”, Anne explained to our IOM host Patrick “last year when we came with Peacelab to the IOM, no one was talking about migration; this year everyone is”. And how right she is. “Migration”, “refugees”, “asylum”... words that over the past months have been very present in media and public discourse. Sadly, however, predominantly with a negative connotation. 'Migration = refugee crisis' is probably a relationship that many Europeans would currently draw. So a crisis, mmh? Quite the opposite of Patricks’ and the IOM’s notion of desirability and necessity.
At AUC, we have been trying to counter these negative perceptions. We have invited refugee “guest students” into our classes, facilitated the opportunities for them to study the Dutch language and to get in contact with young students their own age. In return, we have gotten the chance to learn about new cultures, to listen to fascinating stories, to see the beauty in fasting for Ramadan and then breaking it together at Iftar, and to meet new friends. Migration which is desirable for both sides- at AUC we tick this box.
But away from AUC and back to Kosovo. As a young nation which is still not recognized by a number of countries, Kosovo is only slowly moving towards Visa liberalization. Right now, having a Kosovar passport does not help you a lot: you cannot travel into the Schengen area without having to request a visa. And once requested this visa- you can almost be certain that it will be denied. Movement as a human right, as a Kosovar you are not able to enjoy it.
Yet, two years ago Kosovo has seen an immense “exodus” of its citizens. Between 2014 and 2015, around 100.000 Kosovars migrated to Northern Europe. 100.000 people of a country that only has as little as 2 million inhabitants! Through hiring smugglers Kosovars were able to cross the borders that their passport doesn’t allow them to. However, quickly a new barrier was put up for most of them: the denial of asylum. Around 95% of those who left had to return back to Kosovo. Kosovar migration was not regarded as desirable by the European Union.
So they returned. They returned back to a country in which ethnic conflict still divides the population, the economy is performing very poorly, 55% of the youth are unemployed, the realization of women’s and LGBT rights is still problematic, the RAE (Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian) community is deeply discriminated and the government is highly corrupt. After a week in Kosovo, the puzzle is slowly coming together for me. And when taking a step back and looking at the macrolevel I discover how a cycle of scapegoating, lack of perspectives and decades of conflict only lead to an enforcement of Kosovo’s problems.
A few days ago Marko, a Kosovo Serb I met in Mitrovica, told me “I don’t see a future for myself here”. It is a sentence I have repeatedly heard amongst young people. However, at the moment this future somewhere else seems to be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Fortress Europe has closed its doors to Kosovo.
Thus, change has to happen from within. Things need to start moving, problems need to be addressed: corruption needs to be reduced, minorities need to be more empowered, the quality of education needs to rise, more jobs need to be created, people have to “get over their grievances from the war” (quote Kosovar). Projects, ideas, utopias?
Not only- we’ve been seeing those problems being tackled and fantastic projects happening throughout the week! We met with the Kosovo Women’s Network fighting the deeply patriarchal Kosovar society; we visited QESh an organization advocating for the rights of the LGBT community; we saw how UNMIK’s and EULEX’s efforts are trying to improve the security and quality of institutions; we talked to UNICEF who helps children, for example, in a better access to education; and yesterday we were presented with projects by the IOM on community building which are implemented to not only treat the symptoms but also the causes of migration. When talking to the students at the University of Pristina, the words most used were those of positivity and hope- words such as “future”, or “contributing to our society”.
So I do see hope. And I truly wish that this hope will be seen by many others as well. I wish that Kosovo will find its way towards a sustainable development of a just, equal, and prosperous society. And any step in this direction will open new doors. Eventually, also the doors to Fortress Europe. The doors for Kosovars to become young Europeans, with their rights to freedom of movement and the possibility to migrate.