The recommendation for a visa-free regime by the European Commission is prompting some Serbs to obtain passports Kosovo passports for the first time.
The recommendation earlier in May that Kosovo be given visa-free travel to the Schengen zone has raised interest among Serbs in the northern Kosovo to obtain documents issued by Prishtina.
“I prepared all of my documents and I already have an appointment to take a passport picture,” says Dejan Nedeljkovic, from the village of Banjska in the municipality of Zvecan. His statement echoes those of 84 people in northern Kosovo who have started the procedure to get Kosovo passports. Although Serbian passport holders can travel visa-free since January 2010, passports issued by Serbia for those living in Kosovo are excluded.
Nedeljkovic says that immediately after the news on Kosovo’s visa liberalization, he decided to obtain a passport issued by the Kosovar institutions. As a Serbian passport-holder, so far he could not travel without a visa.
“I do not believe that the authorities in Serbia will manage to achieve visa-free travel for us [Serbs] from Kosovo. Until further notice, we will have passports issued by the Coordination Center, while the possibility that Kosovo passports will become part of the visa-free regime by June is real,” said Nedeljkovic.
On May 5, the European Commission recommended visa-free travel for Kosovo. The proposal needs to be ratified by the European Council and the European Parliament before holders of Kosovo passports will be able to travel up to 90 days in the Schengen area without a visa.
According to the Kosovo Ministry of Interior there has been increased interest in Kosovo passports since May 3 of this year. From 2012 until mid May 2016, 1,286 Kosovo passports have been issued in the northern municipalities, Leposavic, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and North Mitrovica respectively.
“If we consider the period from May 3 to May 18 this year, we can say that a large number of citizens interested in extracting passports because 84 people have applied for this document,” said a spokesperson for the ministry.
Another Kosovo Serb, D.T. from North Mitrovica, says that for three years now she has had a passport of Kosovo. She is pleased by the news that Kosovo passport holders will be able to travel in the Schengen zone without visas.
“I am personally relieved. I love to travel and I will definitely use the benefits of this regime,” said D.T..
Some of D.T.’s friends are not interested in obtaining Kosovo passports, regardless of the benefits.
“Talking with them, I came to the conclusion that they are definitely not interested to apply for a Kosovo passport,” she says. “It seems like they have a secret hope that the Serbian government will ensure that passports of the Coordination Center recognized equally as Kosovo passports.”
Adriana Hodzic, who heads the Kosovo government’s Administrative Office in northern Mitrovica, says the interest of Serbs in northern Kosovo for personal documents of Kosovo institutions has definitely increased.
“The moment the news that Kosovo had been recommended for visa liberalization was published, a significant number of citizens contacted our office to ask about the conditions for getting personal documents, which are a prerequisite for extracting passports,” she said, adding that the number of those who started the procedure for getting ID cards has gone up.
“For example, earlier we had 12 requests during the day, while now we get 40 requests per day,” said Hodzic.
In parallel with the recommendation for Kosovo, an initiative for Serbian passports held by Kosovo inhabitants to be included in the visa liberalization regime has begun. Most of the Serbs in the north have a passport issued by the Coordination Center, except for around 2000 people who have Serbian passports issued in 2009 by the Interim Management Kosovska Mitrovica, for which no visa is required.
In an open letter the north Mitrovica-based NGO Aktiv requested that the Serbian-issued passports be included in the visa liberalization, referring to the Ahtisaari Plan and the Constitution of Kosovo, which allows the possibility of dual citizenship.
“Passports issued by the Coordination Center will certainly be discussed in the context of visa liberalization, either because of the possibility of annulling the administrative body which is now losing its purpose, or in terms of solving their final status. It is the obligation of the Republic of Serbia to raise this issue in Brussels on behalf of all its citizens regardless of their place of residence. The institution issuing the document shall be responsible for the status of the document,” wrote Milica Andric, project manager at Aktiv.
In the letter, Andric states that this is a problem not only for Serbs who live in Kosovo, but also for those who were displaced after 1999 and live in the cities of Serbia, as well as those who after marriage have changed residence from Serbia to Kosovo.
“The Kosovo administrative system does not allow integration for these people,” said Andric adding that unless the visa regime includes the passports for Serbs residing in Kosovo, “they will remain the only subgroup in the Balkans that will need a visa to travel.”