The Republic of Kosovo, situated in the middle of the Western Balkan migratory route, has become a key transit stop for migrants and refugees seeking passage to Western Europe. According to the European Commission (EC), in 2019 a total of 2,027 people were intercepted entering Kosovo irregularly, representing a 300 percent increase from 2018. This trend decreased slightly in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 200 migrants and refugees were left stranded in Kosovo when the country closed its borders in March 2020. Preventive measures, including restriction of movement and quarantine for incoming migrants, were introduced to protect the migrant population.
In October 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited facilities used for deprivation of liberty in the country, including an immigration detention facility, the Vranidoll Detention Centre for Foreigners. The CPT urged the country to refrain from detaining children and families at the centre, encouraged renovations to the facility, and noted its “misgivings about the rather oppressive and carceral material environment in the entire Centre.” The committee also found that most foreign nationals were detained for short periods of time and that arrangements had been made for a psychologist to visit the centre, which are provided by the International Organization for Migration.
Importantly, however, newly-arrived non-nationals were not always given medical exams, which is crucial to avoid the spread of diseases, including COVID-19, as well as for the protection of those persons in need of psychological support. Regarding COVID response at Vranidoll, the committee’s report noted:
— “The CPT is concerned about the lack of a protocol related to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic at Vranidoll Detention Centre. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was made available but there were no other procedures in place in terms of prevention. Only a few posters were displayed on the walls. The detection of symptoms was limited to one body temperature check by the nurse upon arrival at the DCF.”
— “The delegation was informed that, in the period between 26 March 2020 and 7 May 2020, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vranidoll Detention Centre had been used as an emergency quarantine facility for all foreign nationals who had entered the territory of Kosovo*, and a total of 64 foreign nationals (including two women and two children) had been held there in quarantine for two weeks. According to the management and security staff, there had been a number of instances of self-harming by detainees and violent incidents such as damage to the premises, the latter requiring an intervention by the police. This may have been caused by the lack of information about the purpose of their (sanitary) detention. However as far as the delegation could ascertain, such incidents were not recorded in a dedicated register. There were two police officers and two nurses present around the clock.”
— “The delegation was informed that all staff present in the premises were wearing PPE (masks, medical goggles). In terms of access to outdoor exercise, foreign nationals could go outside in pairs (together with their room-mates) but there was no clear rule. There did not seem to be a sanitary protocol in place.”
— “Given that Covid-19 remains a serious risk for immigration detainees and staff alike, the CPT recommends that the relevant authorities develop a specific and comprehensive strategy for immigration detention. Such a strategy should, inter alia, include awareness-raising on Covid- 19 infection prevention at Vranidoll Detention Centre and the methods that will be used to guarantee that the Centre is provided with sufficient quantities of appropriate PPE. Further, steps should be taken to ensure that rapid, easily accessible and free PCR testing is available for every foreign national or staff member, should they develop symptoms suggestive of Covid- 19 or be exposed to others suspected of having Covid‐ 19.”
The CPT also reported that staff at Vranidoll were found not to be specially trained to work with immigration detainees in terms of de-escalation techniques, interpersonal communication and cultural sensitivity. Moreover, during its visit, the CPT delegation was informed that the centre had been used as an emergency quarantine facility for all foreign nationals who had entered the country and that 64 foreign nationals, including two women and two children, had been held there for two weeks. According to staff and management, there had been a few instances of self-harm by detainees and damage to the premises which may have been caused by the lack of information provided for the reasons for mandatory quarantine.
According to information obtained by Euractiv, in the “first months of 2021, Kosovo’s border police repatriated 1,530 migrants from the Middle East and Africa back to Albania after crossing the border illegally.” The EU’s Border force, Frontex, also found that from January to October 2021, 48,500 irregular border crossings were detected.
In December 2021, an agreement was signed between Denmark and Kosovo which will allow Denmark to send foreign prisoners to serve their sentence in Kosovo and subsequently be deported back to their countries of origin. According to the BBC, “Kosovo has agreed to rent 300 prison cells to Denmark to ease overcrowding in the Scandinavian country’s jails. Denmark will pay an annual fee of €15m (£12.8m) for an initial period of five years, and will also help fund green energy in the country. The rented cells are meant to house convicted criminals from non-EU countries due to be deported from Denmark after their sentences. Danish laws would apply to any prisoners in the rented cells. Kosovo has between 700 and 800 unused prison spaces.
- A. Taylor, “Almost 50,000 Illegal Border Crossings From Western Balkans in 2021,” Euractiv, 26 November 2021, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/short_news/almost-50000-illegal-border-crossings-from-western-balkans-in-2021/
- European Commission, “Kosovo 2020 Report: 2020 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy,” 6 October 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/system/files/2020-10/kosovo_report_2020.pdf
- Council of Europe, “Report to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on the Visit to Kosovo Carried Out By the European European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 6 to 16 October 2020,” 23 September 2021, https://rm.coe.int/1680a3ea32
- BBC, “Kosovo agrees to rent prison cells to Denmark to ease overcrowding,” 21 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59740324
- Gjilan Prison in Kosovo Seen From Outside, (BBC, “Kosovo Agrees to Rent Prison Cells to Denmark to Ease Overcrowding,” 21 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59740324)