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 […]
Last updated: January 2022
EUROPEAN COMMITTEE FOR THE PREVENTION OF TORTURE, “Report to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) on the visit to Kosovo* carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 6 to 16 October 2020,” Council of Europe, 23 September 2021. Available at: https://rm.coe.int/1680a3ea32
Vranidoll Detention Centre for Foreigners
39. For the first time, the CPT’s delegation visited Vranidoll Detention Centre for Foreigners, which is the only establishment of this type in Kosovo*. The Centre was opened in 2015 and it is managed by the Department of Citizenship, Asylum and Migration (DCAM) of the Ministry of the Interior. With an official capacity of 75 places, it comprised two accommodation units, one for single men and one for single women and families. In recent years, the actual number of foreign nationals has usually been very low.24 At the time of the visit, it was accommodating one Albanian family (parents with their eight-year-old child) that had arrived at the Centre three weeks earlier.
40. According to the Law on Foreigners,25 foreign nationals may be detained by order of the DCAM for up to six months. Under certain circumstances, the detention period may be extended to a maximum period of twelve months. According to the Law on Asylum,26 asylum-seekers may be detained if the DCAM, on the basis of an individual assessment, considers it is necessary and other less coercive alternatives cannot be applied effectively.
The delegation was informed that foreign nationals were usually detained in the Centre for very short periods (on average, three to five days). That said, there had been some cases in which foreign nationals had been held in the Centre for more than six months and, exceptionally, for up to one year.
41. The CPT wishes to stress that every effort should be made to avoid resorting to the deprivation of liberty of an irregular migrant who is a child. In this regard, the Committee notes that unaccompanied minors may in principle be detained in the Centre, although the Law on Foreigners stipulates that unaccompanied minors subject to a detention order may exceptionally be held in a social welfare centre.27 According to the information provided to the delegation, no unaccompanied minors have thus far been held in the Centre. The Committee welcomes this state of affairs and encourages the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that, in the future, unaccompanied minors will not be detained in the Centre but rather be accommodated in a social welfare institution.
42. The CPT understands that, in recent years, only a few families with children have been held in the Centre and usually only for short periods. It trusts that the relevant authorities will continue to avoid placing parents with children in the Centre and ensure that when, in an exceptional case, minors are held there with their parents, their stay is limited to the shortest possible period of time.
43. The delegation received no allegations of ill-treatment by staff. On the contrary, the family interviewed by the delegation spoke positively about the attitude of staff and their interaction with them.
3. Conditions of detention
44. As regards material conditions, it is positive that detention rooms and communal spaces were generally in an acceptable state of repair, and they were clean, spacious, well lit and ventilated. In each accommodation unit there were twelve rooms with two or three beds each, equipped with a non-lockable cupboard and a plastic table and chairs, as well as a communal room in the area for women and families with a kitchenette (including a fridge), tables, chairs and a television set. In the area for families with children, there were separate bedrooms with a private bathroom. The outside yard had a concrete space with a few benches, as well as a large sports yard.
The CPT acknowledges that furnishings and equipment had been damaged to some extent by foreign nationals during the period when the Centre was used as a quarantine facility for all foreign nationals entering the territory of Kosovo* (see paragraph 59). Further, after the visit, the Committee received reports that, due to a fire incident, the Centre had suffered major material damage and had been temporarily closed down.
The CPT would like to receive updated information on the renovation work carried out as well as on the re-opening of the Centre.
45. The CPT has misgivings about the rather oppressive and carceral material environment in the entire Centre, with barred windows in rooms and communal areas (including in the unit for families and children) and barred gate partitions at the entrance of each unit, in addition to the high fence surrounded with barbed wire on the outside perimeter.
Bearing in mind that immigration detention is a form of administrative detention of persons who are neither suspected nor have been convicted of a criminal offence, the CPT encourages the relevant authorities to review the existing security arrangements at Vranidoll Detention Centre with a view to rendering the environment less oppressive and carceral as far as possible.
46. As far as the delegation could ascertain, foreign nationals were usually offered two hours of outdoor exercise per day, in accordance with the Detention Regulation.
Whilst acknowledging that most foreign nationals stayed in the Centre for only a short period, the CPT is concerned that hardly any recreational activities were offered to foreign nationals, apart from watching TV and playing board games in the communal room. In this regard, the Committee is puzzled by the fact that foreign nationals – including the family that was present at the time of the visit – were apparently allowed to access that room and watch TV for only two hours per day.
The CPT recommends that the relevant authorities take steps to ensure that all foreign nationals at Vranidoll Detention Centre are granted access to the unit’s communal room throughout the day and that they are provided with a range of recreational activities (including sports), in particular when being held in the Centre for longer periods. To this end, the involvement of external service providers such as charity organisations and/or NGOs should be explored.
Further, the Committee wishes to stress that foreign nationals should in principle have free access to outdoor exercise throughout the day (i.e. more than two hours per day) and that outdoor exercise areas should be appropriately equipped (such as shelters with protection against inclement weather, etc.).
47. According to Section 14 of the Detention Regulation, children should be provided with access to recreational activities and games according to their age and, depending on the duration of their stay in the Centre, access to education should be provided.
In the area for families, there was a small room with a few toys and a colourful carpet. As mentioned above, the family held in the Centre at the time of the visit could only watch TV from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and stay outside the building for two hours a day. Even if children did not usually spend much time there, the activities and (often incomplete) games provided for them were too limited. The CPT recommends that the relevant authorities take steps to further develop the range of activities for children (for instance, by creating a playground in the outdoor area) and to offer educational activities in the case of longer stays (taking into account the comments made in paragraph 42).
4. Health care
48. At the time of the visit, there were no health-care staff at the Centre. The delegation was informed that an agreement had been concluded with a local medical centre in order to arrange visits by a general practitioner or emergency doctor whenever needed. The Committee would like to receive detailed information on the agreement between the DCAM and the local medical centre, including on the medical screening upon admission (see also paragraph 49).
49. The CPT wishes to stress that systematic and prompt medical screening of newly-admitted foreign nationals for transmissible diseases is crucial to avoid the spread of diseases among detainees and staff (as regards the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, see paragraph 59), as well as for the detection of persons who have had traumatic experiences and are in need of psychological support. In addition, the systematic carrying out of a proper physical examination is also important for the prevention of police ill-treatment by recording injuries and reporting allegations of ill-treatment to the relevant prosecutor.
Article 10 of the Detention Regulation provides that a medical examination shall be carried outuponadmission totheCentreandthat,withtheexceptionofpregnant women,allforeign nationals placed in the Centre shall undergo a tuberculosis test, involving an X-ray. Further, all medical findings shall be recorded in a confidential medical card.
That said, newly- arrived foreign nationals were not systematically subjected to a comprehensive medical examination upon admission. From the examination of medical records, it transpired that, leaving aside those foreign nationals who had been held in the Centre only overnight, several foreign nationa ls had not undergone any medical check s upon arrival (in a fe w cases, for several weeks).
Moreover, there were no instructions regarding the recording of injuries by health-care professionals, nor were there procedures in place for reporting allegations of ill-treatment and related injuries to the management and relevant authorities.
The Committee recommends that the relevant authorities take the necessary steps to ensure that at Vranidoll Detention Centre:
all newly-arrived foreign nationals benefit from a comprehensive medical examination (including screening for transmissible diseases) by a doctor or a fully-qualified nurse reporting to a doctor as soon as possible after their admission. In this connection, particular attention should also be paid to the possible existence of mental disorders and other vulnerabilities (such as traumatic experiences);
the record drawn up after a medical examination of a detainee contains: (i) a full account of objective medical findings based on a thorough examination (supported by a “body chart” for marking traumatic injuries and, preferably, photographs of injuries); (ii) an account of statements made by the person concerned which are relevant to the medical examination, including any allegations of ill-treatment made by him/her; (iii) the doctor's observations in the light of (i) and (ii), indicating the consistency between any allegations made and the objective medical findings. In addition, the results of every examination, including the above-mentioned statements and the doctor’s observations, should be made available to the detainee and his/her lawyer; an individual medical file is opened without delay–and properly kept–for every newly- arrived foreign national; whenever injuries are recorded which are consistent with allegations of ill-treatment by the foreign national (or which, evenin the absence of allegations, are indicative of ill- treatment), the information is systematically brought to the attention of the competent prosecutor, regardless of the wishes of the person concerned. The health-care staff should advise detainees of the existence of the reporting obligation and that the forwarding of the report to the relevant authorities is not a substitute for the lodging of a formal complaint.
50. As regards the provision of mental health care, the CPT welcomes the fact that arrangements had been made for visits by a psychologist. It is noteworthy that the child held in the Centre at the time of the visit had been seen by the psychologist twice in three weeks.
5. Safe guards
51. The relevant legislation contains a number of important legal safeguards for foreign nationals who are deprived of their liberty under aliens legislation. In particular, the Law on Foreigners provides for a legal remedy to challenge an administrative detention order before the Basic Court and, subsequently, before the Court of Appeal, and foreign nationals are entitled to free legal aid. Further, every foreign national admitted to Vranidoll Detention Centre shall receive a written notification, in one of the official languages and in English, of his/her detention at the Centre, which shall contain the reasons for the detention, the detention period, the right to provide him/her with legal protection and the right to contact his/her relatives, the right to an interpreter and the right to communicate with relevant local authorities and international and non-governmental organisations.
52. Further, it is praiseworthy that the DCAM had signed a contract with an interpretation company which provided interpreters in relevant languages whenever needed and that the Centre benefited from the support of the Free Legal Aid Agency (FLAA) with whom a memorandum of understanding was being concluded. The Committee would like to receive updated information on this matter.
53. At the time of the visit, an information brochure was available at the Centre for newly- admitted foreign nationals. Regrettably, this brochure did not contain relevant information on many of the immigration detainees’ rights provided for by law. The CPT welcomes the fact that a new brochure was being prepared in six or seven languages.
The Committee trusts that the relevant authorities will ensure that the new brochure at Vranidoll Detention Centre will be amended in the light of the above remarks, and it would like to receive a copy of the final version.
54. Foreign nationals could in principle lodge complaints to the Director of the Centre and the DCAM as well as to the Ombudsperson. However, the foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation appeared not to be aware of the existence of any such possibilities.
The CPT recommends that the complaints procedures be specified in the information sheet/brochure referred to in paragraph 53.
6. Other issues
55. Vranidoll Detention Centre had a total of ten security staff provided by a private company. From consultations with the management and security staff present at the time of the visit it became apparent that the latter had received hardly any specific training for working with immigration detainees and that none of them spoke foreign languages.28
The CPT recommends that the relevant authorities take the necessary steps to ensure that all security staff at Vranidoll Detention Centre are provided with appropriate training (including in de-escalation techniques, interpersonal communication and cultural sensitivity). It would also be desirable for some security staff to have relevant language skills.
56. Further, the CPT has misgivings about the routine practice of custodial staff carrying batons inside the detention areas. In the CPT’s view, such a practice is unnecessary from a security standpoint and is not conducive to developing positive relations with detained persons.
The Committee recommends that security staff at Vranidoll Detention Centre no longe r carry batons in detention areas.
b. contact with the outside world
57. In accordance with the relevant legal provisions,29 foreign nationals could send and receive letters without any restrictions, receive visits for two hours per week and make phone calls free of charge for five minutes per day. Detainees were not allowed to keep their mobile phones.
Given that foreign nationals usually received no visits, the CPT invites the relevant authorities to consider extending the possibilities for foreign nationals to have contact with the outside world by allowing them to keep their mobile phones, as is increasingly the practice in various European countries and/or by developing low-cost internet-based communication channels (such as Voice-over-Internet-Protocol).
58. According to the relevant legislation,30 foreign nationals who have violated the house rules may be subjected to one of the following disciplinary measures: warning; obligation to maintain and clean the premises; deprivation of recreational activities, television, internet, sports or cultural activities for up to five days; solitary confinement for up to 48 hours (in one of the two disciplinary cells). Decisions on the imposition of a disciplinary sanction shall be taken by the Director in writing.
In this regard, the CPT notes with concern that the relevant legislation does not provide for a formal procedure and that sanctions imposed had not been recorded in a specific register. On the other hand, the Committee welcomes the fact that, following a recommendation by the Ombudsperson, such a register had recently been created. It was empty at the time of the visit.
The CPT recommends that the relevant authorities take the necessary steps, including at the legislative level, to ensure that formal disciplinary procedures for Vranidoll Detention Centre are established and implemented in practice. In this connection, the foreign nationals concerned should be entitled to be informed in writing of the charges against them, to be heard in person by the decision-making authority, to call witnesses on their own behalf, to receive a copy of the decision and to appeal to an independent authority against any sanctions imposed. Whenever necessary, use should be made of professional interpretation services. In addition, all disciplinary sanctions should be recorded in the recently established register. Further, health-care staff should be highly attentive to the needs of all detainees placed in solitary confinement and should therefore not only be informed of any placement but also visit the person concerned immediately after the measure has started (and, if the confinement exceeds 24 hours, at least once per day), providing prompt medical assistance, as required.
d. specific issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic
59. 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.
European Commission, “COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT Kosovo 2020 Report Accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, 2020 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy,” 6 October 2020, pp 46-48. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/system/files/2020-10/kosovo_report_2020.pdf
Legal and irregular migration
Due the COVID-19 pandemic, close to 200 irregular migrants and refugees were stranded in Kosovo when borders closed in March 2020. Preventive measures were introduced to protect migrant population from the pandemic, including restriction of movement and quarantine for incoming migrants. Kosovo has had to deal with more asylum seekers present in the Asylum Centres and the situation was well managed (including living conditions, information sharing) despite limited capacities, with EU-funded support through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and other partners.
The EU, EU Member States and Kosovo cooperated closely on mutually repatriating their citizens stranded due to COVID-19 related measures.
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
The Department of Citizenship, Asylum and Migration in the Ministry of Internal Affairs is in charge of implementing migration policy. The Directorate for Migration and Foreigners in the border police deals with irregular migrants. The legal framework is now largely in line with the EU acquis. Several pieces of implementing legislation were adopted in the reporting period.
Kosovo has signed readmission agreements with 24 countries, including 20 EU Member States and members of the Schengen area. No new readmission agreements were signed in the reporting period. There is no readmission agreement with the EU as a whole.
As the government has not yet adopted the strategy and action plan on migration for 2019- 2023 it should revise the strategy to ensure that it reflects the main challenges Kosovo is facing, in line with previous expert advice. The draft strategy was based on finalised migration profiles, but did not build on the assessment and evaluation of the previous strategy.
The Government Authority on Migration is expected to take more proactive leadership role in migration governance, coordination as well as in improving the monitoring mechanism for implementing migration policies. The new statute for this body should further strengthen its role and clarify its composition and function, but it has not yet been adopted.
Implementation and enforcement capacity
Kosovo is part of the Western Balkan migratory route. The number of migrants transiting Kosovo has continued to rise since summer 2019 as in other parts of the region. A total of 2,027 migrants were intercepted entering Kosovo irregularly during 2019, an increase of 300% compared with 2018. The three main nationalities represented were Syrians, Iraqis and Algerians. According to preliminary data, this trend has decreased somewhat in early 2020 – possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing proper care and security for the most vulnerable groups of migrants remains a challenge.
A total of 13 people were detained in detention centre during the reporting period with an average stay of 18 days. Although the return of third-country nationals continued to be hindered by status-related issues in 2019, 472 people were returned (110 forced, 326 through voluntary returns, 3 people through the assisted voluntary return scheme with the IOM and 33 deportations based on a court decision). In May 2019, Kosovo and IOM signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration.
The border police lacks proper reception facilities to accommodate migrants at the borders, before they are transferred to asylum or other centres. Due to a lack of biometric equipment, registering migrants at the borders or police stations remains the main challenge. Transnational smuggling networks that include Kosovo citizens facilitate secondary movements of irregular migrants from entry points along the Western Balkan route. In 2019, the police investigated 25 new cases of migrant smuggling in 6 police operations. In these operations, 41 people were arrested, of which 30 Kosovo citizens. There were 15 criminal reports filed to the prosecution. Unaccompanied minors from Kosovo itself (outside the transitory migratory flows) are also a challenge. Authorities should step up efforts to fight networks targeting this specific, vulnerable group.
Kosovo took a proactive and preventive approach to the rising number of migrants by revising its contingency plan. Until summer 2019, Kosovo only had a reception facility for migrants in Vranidoll/Vrani Do, with a capacity to host 70 people. Since then, based on the contingency plan, this facility has been expanded to be able to offer an additional 200 places. Work has begun to refurbish the Belvedere camp (capacity of up to 2,000 people).
Gaps in enforcement remain, in particular due to a lack of coordination between government agencies. There have been considerable improvements in data management, analysis and exchange, including the ability to produce periodical reports based on Eurostat templates. However, regular data sharing on the total number of migrants transiting through Kosovo still needs to be improved. The Asylum (Reception) Centre and Detention Centre for Foreigners still lack sufficient specialised staff. Legal provisions are in place to uphold the fundamental rights of irregular migrants and foreigners hosted in the centre. However, the centre is facing structural issues, mainly relating to improper housing units, a lack of secure areas, a lack of in-house medical facilities and a lack of adequate specialised supervisory staffing to ensure basic rights and needs, especially psycho-social support. The border police needs further capacity building in the area of protection-sensitive migration. Challenges remain as regards communication between officials and irregular migrants and people in need of protection, despite the possibility to share interpreters among countries of the region through the Migration, Asylum and Refugee Regional Initiative. Qualified interpreters are needed to service both the asylum and detention centres and the border police.
The readmission agreements with EU Member States and Schengen associated countries are being implemented satisfactorily. The number of asylum requests made by Kosovo citizens in both EU and Schengen associated countries has fallen steadily, from the peak of 73,240 in 2015 to 4,745 in 2018 and 3,520 in 2019. Mirroring the trend in asylum requests, the overall number of Kosovo citizens readmitted has dropped from 18,789 in 2015 to 2,395 in 2018 to 1,536 in 2019 (1,162 forced and 374 voluntary). The return rate of Kosovo citizens ordered to leave EU territory in 2018 was 58% and in 2019 it was 41%. While statistics show a drop in the return rate, EU Member States have confirmed that Kosovo authorities continue to cooperate well on readmission.
A sustainable reintegration process is in place in Kosovo, but remains complex, involving many actors. Overall, there is a need for better inter-institutional coordination, including with municipalities, as well as improved systemic monitoring and evaluation. The implementation of Kosovo’s 2018-2022 reintegration strategy and action plan is ongoing and an updated two- year action plan will be drafted in 2020. Following the de-centralisation of the reintegration process, municipalities continue to face challenges in providing services with insufficient budget allocations. During 2019, 5,237 people benefitted from sustainable reintegration services provided by the Reintegration Fund. Further efforts are still needed to put in place a gender-sensitive system that reaches the most vulnerable returnees (including Roma and Ashkali) and focuses more on sustainable community assistance, including through services such as training related to income generation. Many returnees still do not receive sufficient information. The lack of a screening and referral tool for returnees makes it harder to identify vulnerable people, including victims of trafficking.
Institutional set-up and legal alignment
The institutions for handling asylum requests are in place, although they need to be further strengthened to address capacity gaps, especially given the trend of increasing asylum requests in 2019.
The legal framework on asylum is largely in line with the EU acquis. Key implementing legislation was adopted in 2019, including the Regulation on Integration of Foreigners (including asylum seekers, refugees, people under subsidiary and/or temporary protection and stateless persons).
Implementation and enforcement capacity
In 2019, Kosovo recorded the largest number of asylum applications since 2010. It received 2081 applications, of which 44% from Syrians and 27% from Iraqis. This was a 300% increase two years in a row, from 595 in 2018 and 147 in 2017. All applicants are duly provided unhindered access to the asylum procedure. However, Kosovo is still mainly a transit country. Most asylum requests are suspended, as applicants disappear without completing the procedure. Nonetheless, some progress was noted in granting refugee status to asylum-seekers, resulting in a total of 41 decisions by the end of 2019 (33 positive, 8 rejections).
The establishment of a fully effective and protection-sensitive migration management system is still a work in progress. The assessment of claims based on merit, using an analytical approach, needs further strengthening. The lack of biometric equipment affects the efficiency of initial registration and further processing. Challenges persist in providing information, interpretation services and legal aid as required by law. There is an agreement with UNHCR to provide translation services. The integration system is at an early stage of development, and requires the full attention and financial support of the relevant central and local authorities. Authorities issue biometric ID cards and travel documents for refugees, although with delays. As an example of good practice, detention of asylum seekers does not occur in Kosovo, and in general detainees who do seek asylum are given the opportunity to be transferred from the detention centre to the asylum centre.
The increasing numbers of asylum seekers challenged the reception capacities of the Asylum Centre and capacity was increased with an additional 200 places (see section on legal and irregular migration).
The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) cooperates with Kosovo through its regional training activities.