Demographics, Migration and the Swiss National Football Team: Challenges for Community Policing in Kosovo

Migration is a typical post-conflict problem and one which poses specific challenges for community policing.

Story by: Robin Hofmann

The first two things one recognizes when boarding the plane from Düsseldorf in Germany to Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo: First, nearly all travelers are Kosovars. This is only partly surprising as Kosovo is not a popular tourist destination and most of the passengers are Kosovarian migrants traveling to visit their families back home. Unfortunately, not many businesspeople travel to Kosovo either as business activities in Kosovo are considerably low. The only positive thing about that is that passport controls are an easy experience: When telling I’m entering not for private but for business purposes the border police officers welcome me with a big smile!

Second: many of the passengers are children. Indeed, a closer look at the statistics reveals some interesting facts about the demographics in Kosovo. The age structure is the dream come true for every demographer, particularly for those from the fast aging EU countries. According to the CIA Factbook, in Kosovo the ‘Population Pyramid’ has really earned its name, stating that people from 0-29 years make up for nearly half of the population. Over a quarter of the population are children under fourteen.


CIA Factbook, Kosovo ‘Population Pyramid’:

Compared to Germany, this is nearly twice as much. Despite remarkably high fertility rates, however, the population growth rate of Kosovo is with 0.64% alarmingly low and ranked only 147 of the 225 countries in the world. The reason is the high net migration rate, which with -3.33 in 2015 is amongst the highest in the world (rank 195 out of 225 countries). Net migration rate describes the ratio of immigrants and emigrants per one thousand inhabitants. For Kosovo this means that out of a thousand inhabitants more people are leaving the country than entering it. In comparison: In the same time, Norway had a migration rate of +7.25 whereas Germany’s rate was +1.24.

To where are Kosovars leaving? Germany has experienced a considerable influx of Kosovo Albanian immigrant workers (“Gastarbeiter”) since the late 70s. In the 90s, during the Kosovo conflict, approx. 400 000 Kosovo Albanians sought asylum in Germany. Of those, only around 100 000 returned to Kosovo after the war. During the latest wave of asylum seekers in 2015, at the end of the year over 30 000 persons from Kosovo had requested asylum in Germany alone. This made the Kosovo Albanians the third largest group of refugees in Germany after Syrians (approx. 158 000) and Albanians (approx. 54 000). The six West Balkan states, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo made up over a quarter of all registered asylum seekers in Germany (27.4%).

However, due to problems of registering the refugees, these numbers are highly speculative and might not even come close to the actual numbers. All in all, this adds up to a total of over 200 000 Kosovo Albanians living in Germany in 2015 not counting all those that have received German citizenship over the past 15 years and those living unregistered as illegal immigrants. This makes Germany by far the number one country for Kosovo Albanian migration.

Ranked second as a migration destination from Kosovo goes to Switzerland, with around 70 000 Kosovo Albanians. Here as well, the numbers might have grown considerably in 2015. The fact that Switzerland is one of the Kosovars and Albanians’ favorite migration countries could also be observed during the European Football Championship in France this year. Six players of the national football team of Switzerland had Albanian roots. An Albanian friend of mine proudly calculated that together with the Albanian national team that had qualified as well no other nationality had so many football players participating in the Championship.

This seems a bit ironic, given that Kosovo itself was not allowed to participate with its national team in the Championship due to the lack of recognition as a sovereign state by the international community. This has changed since May 2016 when membership in UEFA and even in FIFA was granted. This, however, will leave the patriotic Albanian football players, currently playing for other nations, with a difficult decision as for which country to play for in the future. (A case in point: The brothers Veton and Valon Berisha have both earned international caps for Norway. Valon, who plays for a club in Switzerland, has since chosen Kosovo, while Veton, who plays for club in Germany, decided to continue playing for Norway.)

Young men in Prishtina. Photo: Robin Hofmann

Nevertheless, migration remains one of the major issues the young state of Kosovo is confronted with. Estimates suggest that between 50 000 and 100 000 Kosovars fled from the country in 2015 alone to seek asylum in Europe or overseas. This is an extremely high number for a country with approx. 1.8 million inhabitants.  It is even more puzzling when one takes into account that EULEX, the European Rule of Law Mission, has been deployed to Kosovo for eight years and billions of euros have been invested in state building and developmental aid. As a consequence, the recognition of asylum to applicants from Kosovo is below one per cent and Kosovo, just as all the other West Balkan countries, was declared as a safe country of origin in 2015.

Why this exodus? The foreign minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, explained in an interview for the German newspaper FAZ that one reason were strangely persistent rumors that Germany would generously hand out residence and working permits to migrants. Allegedly, this was boosted by certain media stories providing information about Kosovars that had received apartments in Germany. Another misinformation was the claim by some commentators that Germany was seeking to close its demographic gap of a quickly over-aging society by taking in young migrants from other countries.

Even though Thaci also blamed human traffickers and organized criminals for triggering the mass exodus for their own business purposes, the argument that Germany is actually considering to bridge its demographic gap with the help of migration is, in fact, not completely far-fetched. A popular argument among politicians and experts favoring the transition of Germany into an “Einwanderungsland”, an immigration country, has been the positive effects on demographics.

This should not however shift the attention away from the far more important “push factors” for the migration wave from Kosovo: devastatingly high unemployment rates, especially among young people, and the low wages (the average monthly income is only about 300-400 Euros) might have played a significant role as well.

The consequences of an out flux of this scale for a country like Kosovo are complex and hard to estimate. Some argue it relieves a certain pressure from society when the unemployed and poorest leave. Minority communities in rural areas, Roma and Ashkali, have been discriminated against and deprived of social participation for centuries.

With half of the population under the age of 30, youth unemployment is a logical consequence. How to employ all those young people, a considerable number of whom are well educated? Thousands of graduates work as taxi drivers or waiters in the bigger cities of the country. Who wouldn’t choose the move into the EU with even the slightest chance of finding work in one of the member states? Here the large diaspora communities function like a multiplier for migrants. The strong Albanian networks in Germany or Switzerland make migration relatively easy, especially for those who choose the way of illegal immigration. As Albanian family ties are tight, accommodation with relatives or friends is easy to find; a job on the black labor market as well. However, immigrants with a legal residency who give shelter or even hide illegals risk the withdrawal of their legal status.  When a job is not to be found, the risk of becoming engaged in criminal activities rises. The first report on crime statistics of refugees issued by the German Federal Police Office in November 2015 identified Kosovars as the group of migrants in Germany that is by far the most likely to commit crimes of different kinds. But these are issues the host states have to deal with.

Often forgotten are the consequences of this exodus for Kosovo. These are even more problematic. How is policing affected in a society that loses almost seven per cent of its population in one year? A scientist specializing on minorities in Kosovo told me about a project targeting Roma minorities in rural areas.  The purpose was to train paralegals from these communities to support women in the fight against domestic violence. The project had to be downsized because most of the women in the communities had simply left the country. In some instances, the trained paralegals were gone as well. Community-policing, which is built on long-lasting trust-relations, faces particular problems especially when well-educated people in communities disappear and communication networks are ripped apart.

People leaving the communities is not the only problem. Even more dramatic is the current situation with tens of thousands of refugees returning from the EU back to their original communities: Most of them sold their properties and gave up their jobs and families to finance the journey. Often they were lured by false promises, deliberately fostered by human traffickers, of a need for workers in the EU. Most of them return disillusioned, facing depressions and a situation that is worse than before their escape. Sometimes, other people treat them like traitors and their social reintegration is a huge challenge.

The issue of migration is a typical problem post-conflict countries is confronted with. And it is just one example of which complex problems community-policing faces in post-conflict settings.

Dr. Robin Hofmann holds a law degree from the University of Cologne and is a trained lawyer. He is a researcher with Ruhr-University Bochum and ICT4COP, working on our South East Europe and Youth research areas. 

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