Friday 20 July 2018

Refugee crisis: Kosovo is part of the solution, not the problem - foreign minister

German chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders at the Western Balkans Summit at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna yesterday
German chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders at the Western Balkans Summit at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna yesterday

Harriet Alexander in Vienna

Kosovo should be considered as part of the solution to the migrant crisis engulfing Europe rather than part of the problem, the country's foreign minister has said, as leaders from the Western Balkans meet in Vienna to deal with the problem.

Western Balkan countries are facing "huge challenges" handling tens of thousands of migrants trying to get to the EU, Angela Merkel said yesterday.

Kosovo's foreign minister, Hashim Thaci, told reporters that his tiny country - the poorest and youngest in Europe - was determined to help.

"As the political leader of a former guerrilla force, I have nothing but sympathy when I see people fleeing for their lives," said Mr Thaci, who was one of the top leaders of the Kosovan Liberation Army. "They fear the dreaded isolation of being left to their fate, alone in their homeland. But at the same time, big global problems need big global solutions - and we can be part of that."

Mr Thaci said that Europe had to take a united approach, and his country, born in 2008 following Tony Blair and Bill Clinton's decision to bomb Serbia into retreat in 1999, would assist. But he cautioned that Europe was at risk of losing its heart in the battle to keep migrants out.

"During the Balkans Wars, Europe was the beacon of human rights that we all dreamed of," Mr Thaci said.

"There is fog around that beacon now. We must do more to clear it."

He said the solution was "multi-pronged" - helping develop the countries from which the migrants came, so that they can have hope of a dignified existence in their own land, and working together across the EU to devise strategies for dealing with unlawful entries.

As he spoke, Hungary announced that it had seen a record number of arrivals into its country - with 3,241 detained on Wednesday.

A total of 2,533 were held by police on Tuesday, and 2,093 the previous day. Nearly 145,000 migrants have been detained in Hungary by police so far this year, over three times as many as in all of 2014.

Kosovo suffered its own crisis earlier this year, when in January and February 50,000 people left in a matter of weeks. Mr Thaci said that was down to the "false rumour" that Germany was giving out residents' permits, and that numbers of Kosovan asylum seekers in Germany have fallen from 13,000 in March to 800 in July.

And he maintains that allowing Kosovo to join the EU will further stem the numbers leaving: membership will provide job opportunities in Kosovo, and allow Kosovans to feel they are "part of the family".

"Together we can fight nationalism and fight radical elements," he added.(© Daily Telegraph London)

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