Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Uncage Team Panda

By Robbert Muller

"There is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. Illegality is just a matter of paperwork." With this perspective provided by Anne in mind, we went to an early Tuesday morning meeting with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This organization was founded in 1951 and plays a prominent role in numerous migration issues, such as return and reintegration. While writing this blog post at one of the numerous cozy cafes on the main boulevard of Pristina, my nostrils are (again) rewarded with the wonderful privilege of inhaling large amounts of cigarette smoke.

Back to the IOM. Another interesting topic they addressed were the multiethnic trainings, in which they bring Serbian Kosovars and Albanian Kosovars together via issues. What are the difficulties you face in the south? What are your difficulties in the north? What can you learn from each other? And how to make these two communities who so often live in parallel worlds more (economically) interdependent? Of course, this is more easily said than done. The young Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians no longer speak each other’s language. Thus, the communication usually goes in English, which effectively excludes less-educated segments of the population. Nevertheless, a recently organized sports competition involving one Albanian-speaking school and one Serbian-speaking speaking school in which the school children were placed in mixed teams--filled my heart with joy. No longer were the kids Albanian Kosovar or Serbian Kosovar, but they were all members of "team Panda".

Once the formal part of the IOM meeting was over, some other students and I talked with one of the persons of the IOM. She told us about the relatively high amount of Kosovars becoming foreign fighters in Iraq or Syria. Although Kosovo has quite strong economic ties with Saudi Arabia and has seen a spread of Wahhabism, it often is not religion which pushes people into radicalization. Rather, socioeconomic challenges drive these people into the hands of extremists. I do not want to sensationalize this topic - since we are still talking about a few hundred people in a country in which the vast majority rejects these extremist interpretations -  but it brings me to the issue of borders. Kosovars are the only people in Europe who cannot travel freely to other European countries. Many are automatically rejected a visa, just because they happened to be born in Kosovo. It is so frustrating to meet all these bright, energetic, funny, kind and young people who are so much like "us" , yet are faced with extremely high unemployment rates and are trapped within Kosovo. The ones that do get a visa – for instance for study or work activities – often leave the country since they see no future here (brain drain), even though they are needed more in Kosovo than in Germany and Switzerland. 

I want to end this blog post on a positive note. Despite the challenges the people of Kosovo face, I have never encountered a single person whose heart was filled with resentment and anger. A few days ago, we met two students from Mitrovica who took us to their mensa and shared their stories and moments of happiness with us. Even though we were officially not allowed to eat there, the people working at the canteen said “they came all the way from Amsterdam, we cannot let them leave without a meal!” Just yesterday, we (Dania, Sanne, and I) wanted to ask to two students in the library about our project. Our short interview turned out to become a wonderful conversation, in which we received a tour through the library and shared lots of stories and jokes together. Although I understand the ‘stick-and-carrot approach’ of the EU when it comes to visa liberalization, all these individuals living in the ‘heart of Europe’ would benefit greatly from and deserve to move and travel freely.  

Picture of Sanne and Dania in the wonderful library of Kosovo, which deserves a blog post on its own since it is filled with symbolism and interesting mixtures of architecture. 

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