25th Oct 2016

Kosovo passport holders face uncertain EU welcome

Twenty EU states will begin welcoming Kosovo passport holders after Pristina started issuing the new documents on Wednesday (30 July). Slovakia will not allow entry however, while the six other EU countries that do not recognise Kosovo have not made their position clear.

"It's a historic day for our country and all the citizens of Kosovo. We are creating a nation. Today signifies the final secession of the citizens of Kosovo," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said at the passport ceremony in Pristina, five months after the country declared independence.

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German firm Giesecke & Devrient is printing 600,000 of the dark blue, 32-page thick documents, which cost €25 each and use laser and invisible-ink security technology to conform with International Civil Aviation Organisation and EU standards for machine-readable passports.

The documents will replace the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) passports, which have been in circulation since the UN intervened after a Serb crackdown on Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population in 1999. The UNMIK documents will no longer be produced but will remain valid until their expiry dates.

The 120,000-strong Serb minority in Kosovo also have Serb passports, which are valid for travel anywhere. But the situation for the new Kosovo passport holders remains less clear, as Slovakia, Malta, Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Greece and Romania have not recognised the new state.

"We do not recognise an independent Kosovo, so we will also not recognise their documents. We will continue to recognise substitute passports issued by the UN administration and Serbian passports," a Slovak interior ministry spokesman told Slovak newspaper Sme earlier this month.

He added that Kosovo passport holders who receive visas to the borderless Schengen treaty zone will only be able to legally enter Schengen countries that recognise the new Balkan country.

The other six non-recognising EU states have not made their policy clear. But neighbouring countries such as Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro say they will accept Kosovo passports because they have been "approved" by UNMIK and the act does not entail acceptance of Kosovo sovereignty under international law.

"I will only visit countries that accept my passport," Teuta Begolli, who became the first person in Kosovo to receive one of the new documents, told Reuters. "I will not travel to other countries until they recognise us."

Serbia is taking the toughest measures, with Belgrade instructing officials to draw a line through any Kosovo immigration stamps placed in people's passports coming from Kosovo to Serbia and to stamp a Serbian symbol next to the defaced Kosovo image instead.

"We will not allow a single citizen of Serbia to cross the administrative line or border crossings with Serbia carrying that [new Kosovo] passport," Serb interior minister Ivica Dacic told newswire B92 last week.

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