September 1999 Volume 6 Number 9
Kosovo had about 1.8 million Kosovar Albanians and 200,000 Serbs in 1997-98. In 1998-99, Serbs began to drive Kosovars from Kosovo; eventually 900,000 left. By July 1999, most of the Kosovars who fled had returned, and some took revenge on Serbs. In August 1999, it was estimated that 170,000 or 85 percent of the Serbs who had been living in Kosovo in 1997-98 had left. Returning ethnic Albanians have also attacked Kosovo Gypsies, or Roma, causing them to flee Kosovo.
Many of the countries that gave TPS to Kosovars are encouraging them to return before the end of 1999. Several countries announced that TPS for Kosovars would end December 31, 1999 and that Kosovars who return voluntarily will receive free flights home and start-up funds. For example, Australia, which accepted 4,000 Kosovars, in August 1999 offered $3,000 plus free flights home. The Kosovars sheltered abroad are considered far more difficult to work with than Bosnians, which may help to explain why many host nations are offering incentives for returns.
Kosovars, assisted by smugglers, are continuing to move Kosovars out of the region, knowing that if they are caught, it may be difficult for the countries of destination to return them to Kosovo. Italy announced that all Kosovars who arrived after July 20, 1999 would be considered unauthorized migrants and returned immediately. According to Italian authorities, smugglers are bringing Kosovar Roma through Montenegro to Italy, where they apply for asylum. In several cases, Kosovar Roma, who are fleeing Kosovo after being accused of siding with the Serbs, were found dead in Montenegro or drowned when smuggling ships sank.
In August 1999, a boat headed for Italy with 1,120 Roma from Kosovo was intercepted by the Italian Coast Guard. The Roma claimed that there was a dead child on board, and persuaded the Coast Guard to tow their boat to Bari. There was no dead child, and the Italian government said that all the Roma would be repatriated. The Roma, some of whom speak Italian, claim that they have been subject to reprisals by returning Albanian Kosovars.
Belgian police detained about 1,000 Kosovars in August, among them 60 Kosovars being transported by smugglers on trucks to the UK. The smugglers included the son of an Albanian embassy employee, who claimed diplomatic immunity and was released. Most of the Kosovars reported paying about $2,700 each to be brought into Britain.
On August 19, 1999, 300 applications for asylum were submitted in Belgium, the highest daily total since the end of World War II. Belgium gives TPS to Kosovars, and provides them with housing. Among the applicants are many Albanians claiming to be Kosovars.
The UNHCR reported that 11,230 Yugoslavs applied for asylum in 18 European countries in July 1999, down sharply from 18,740 in June 1999--the UNHCR attributed the decline to the stabilization of the situation in Kosovo. There were 28,899 asylum applications in Europe in July 1999; Yugoslavs were 39 percent of the total. Germany received the most asylum applications, 9,408 in July 1999.
Alexander Mineyev, "Belgium flooded by illegal immigrants from Kosovo," ITAR-ASS News Agency, August 24, 1999.