Thousands flee economic despair in Kosovo for EU countries, welcome or not
Sixteen years after the war in Kosovo sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border, another exodus is underway here.
Instead of fleeing conflict, Kosovars are now seeking to escape unemployment, and despair. They are leaving by the tens of thousands, making their way illegally into European Union countries to look for a better future.
Just a trickle until September, the number of migrants suddenly surged last fall, spurred by word of mouth. At least 26,000 Kosovars migrated to EU member states in 2014, and more than 18,000 more have already made the trip since the beginning of this year...
Lack of opportunity leads to mass exodus from Kosovo
In recent months, tens of thousands have fled Kosovo, the youngest European state. Poverty and a lack of prospects at home are just two reasons why they're leaving.
"Why should I stay here?" asks Fitim S., who has three children, ages 10, 8 and 3. Until a few months ago, he received 80 euros a month in benefits. But even that has been cut now, as he owns a house and others do not.
"We've been told that we can claim asylum in Germany," Fitim says, adding that he would like to stay in Kosovo if he could find work paying "around 200 euros ($230) a month." But, things being as they are, all five of them are packed up and ready to get on the bus to Germany.
...They go as far as Subotica, a small town near the Serbia-Hungary border. It's a Schengen border, which most Kosovars then cross on foot with the help of corrupt police officers and traffickers who charge 200 euros per head.
If they get caught by Hungarian police, they claim asylum in Hungary. But they'd rather make it all the way to Germany, Austria or Scandinavia.
Kosovo has not seen this many people leave the country since the war in 1999. There are no official numbers, but government sources say up to 30,000 have fled Kosovo in the past two months. Some diplomats in Pristina, however, think 50,000 is a more realistic figure - some media outlets claim it's even more.
Many schools have seen the effects: Teachers have been let go as more than 5,200 students have left. The streets and restaurants in Pristina, normally full of life, are also emptier than usual.
For a country with just 1.8 million people, this mass exodus poses a problem. "Kosovars don't believe in political parties, parliament or the government anymore," sociologist Artan Muhaxhiri told DW. "So, first chance they get, they leave."
Kosovo is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with unemployment at 45 percent and more than 34 percent of people living in poverty, meaning on less than 1.42 euros a day. About 18 percent even live on just 94 cents a day. But there are also some middle class Kosovars giving up fairly well-paid jobs to leave the country illegally...