Serbia issues 220,000 passports to Kosovo Albanians as only ID accepted abroad
BBC Monitoring Europe (Political) - August 15, 2007, Wednesday

Text of report by Serbian newspaper Politika on 13 August

[Report by Toma Todorovic: "Kosovo Albanians Only Coming to Serbia for Passports"]

Nis -- What is the business that daily brings senior officials from Kosovo to Nis, Kraljevo, Krusevac, Vranje, Jagodina, and other Serbian towns this summer and what do they want here? What is the need that motivates lawyers, doctors, top officials in the Kosovo judiciary, representatives of the province's authorities, and ordinary people of Albanian nationality that live in the southern Serbian province to spend days in Serbia? Why do Kosovo Albanians that live and work in Western European countries take time to visit Nis and other Serbian towns?

There is only one answer to all these questions -- they request and are granted the right to a Serbian passport. Without it and without other Serbian documents as well, Kosovo Albanians could not stir from Kosovo.

Since the deployment of international peace forces after the air strikes on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 and the emplacement of a protectorate over Kosovo, members of the Albanian national minority have been denying that they are part of the state of Serbia. However, for the sake of a passport, they will accept anything: Serbian regulations, documents, and (the fact that they have) the citizenship of Serbia as evident from their personal details. This is the only way for them to obtain personal documents, passports, and ID cards from the Serbian authorities.

For a short time of a year and a half after the air strikes, Albanians from Kosovo could take out passports in Pristina. However, after several attacks and murder attempts against Serbian officials it was decided to relocate the province's Interior Secretariat lock, stock, and barrel from Pristina to Niska Banja.

Every day, there are huge crowds outside the province's SUP, relocated now from Pristina to Niska Banja.

"We come here from Kosovo, but people that live and work in Switzerland, Germany, and other Western European countries and who could obtain passports in Serbia's consular offices abroad also come here, because it is easier and quicker to do it here, in Serbia. It is easier and quicker because when one submits an application for a new passport or for replacing an old one, one needs to submit also other documents, such as the birth certificate or proof of citizenship, which must not be older than six months. These documents, too, can only be obtained in Serbia. I was here once already, about a fortnight ago; now I have brought in my brother and his wife," Muharem Zeqi told us.

Over the past eight years that Kosovo has been under international patronage, Serbian authorities have issued more than 220,000 new passports to Albanians from the southern province. Of this number of passports issued to [Kosovo] Albanians, a lion's share -- about 170,000 -- were issued in Niska Banja, since that is where registers are kept for Pristina and some other big municipalities in Kosovo, which were and remain the most populous according to the registers; passports are issued also by other police departments in Serbia.

Nearly 5,000 registers were saved from being destroyed in the devastating attacks of 1999 and were transferred to Serbia. It is only on the basis of these registers that valid documents can be issued: birth, marriage, and death certificates, proof of citizenship, and so on. According to official figures based on these registers, Serbia annually issues about 50,000 different documents to Albanians, Serbs, and members of other nationalities living in Kosovo-Metohija, as well as to those living in Serbia proper and abroad.

Kosovo Albanians take out also new Serbian ID cards which, along with the passports, are the only documents recognized abroad. Documents that are issued by UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] in Pristina, Urosevac, Prizren, Pec, and other towns are valid for use only in the province. Not even [NATO-led] KFOR [Kosovo Force] recognizes them if Albanians from Kosovo want to cross into Serbia proper, for example; for this, they need to have a Serbian ID card.

Because of a heavy pressure of applicants on Nis, Niska Banja, and other towns in Serbia proper, an outpost has recently been opened halfway between Kosovo Polje and Pristina and is secured by KFOR and UNMIK; Kosovo Albanians have been availing themselves of the services of this outpost lately. The registry office relocated from Pristina and operating since 2004 as part of the Civil and General Affairs Department in Nis has an outpost also in Gracanica, where personal documents can be obtained, but not passports, which are only issued by the Serbian police.

"Registry offices and the Civil and General Affairs Department are regularly supervised by the Serbian Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-government. We have taken a step further in Nis by setting up the outpost between Kosovo Polje and Pristina. The City of Nis defrays the costs of transport and other expenses for employees that go to Kosovo on Wednesdays and Thursdays to collect applications for documents. In this way, we have considerably eased pressure on Nis and the new premises that our city has set aside and adapted for the Registry Office from Pristina and where conditions are the best for taking out personal documents," Goran Djordjevic, head of the Civil and General Affairs Department of the City of Nis, says.

Muharem Zeqi from the Pristina area explained to us very graphically what the Serbian passport means to him and his ethnic kin:

"It is a great asset. Without it all we could do is stay in Kosovo."

Source: Politika, Belgrade, in Serbian 13 Aug 07 pp 1, 6

Copyright 2007 British Broadcasting Corporation
Posted for Fair Use only.