There were two big deals in the news in Hungary today: the visit of Chancellor Merkel, and the situation of 250 people from Kosovo being stuck at the train station in Györ. The Kosovars all felt that they are forced to leave their country since they did not want to continue their life in destitution. According to the news, they all had valid train tickets, only valid visas they didn’t. Ironically, exactly while the situation on the train station was being “solved” (by sending the Kosovars to refugee camps in Hungary and not letting them move on towards Austria), one of our members was addressing a question regarding migration to EU to Mrs. Merkel at a Q&A-session held at the private, German-language Andrássy University. In her answer, Merkel revoked the supposedly clear distinction between refugees and economic migrants. She stated that we simply cannot let everyone to enter, and that we need to focus on either those who “can work” or on those who are politically persecuted in their own countries. This answer to our question was puzzling, indeed: on one hand she emphasized the importance of political refugees fleeing persecution in opposition to „economic migrants”, but on the other hand, she also stressed the importance of having fresh, skilled labour in Germany. We can only imagine this to mean that there is a further distinction between „poor” economic migrants and so called „highly skilled migrants from third countries.” That is, some economic migrants are more welcome than others. Merkel’s implicit suggestion that (the poor) “economic migrants” cannot work is odd, given that it is exactly them that many employers choose to exploit for low-ranking jobs. If anyone knows what is it like to “really work”, it is the “economic migrants” who should know.
While this Q&A-session was slowly reaching its end, the Kosovars were being shipped to refugee camps around Hungary. These 250 people not only had to face inhumane conditions after being caught by the police at the border and being taken to overcrowded cages behind garage doors at the police station in Szeged, the reception conditions in the camps where the families are now taken are also miserable (according to the news, the single men’s fate is yet to be decided, which means that the authorities might put them in detention). Nobody can argue that the Kosovars were actually looking after the “luxury” of refugee camps in Hungary, but it is nevertheless regrettable that due to the lack of free movement they are now staying in already crowded camps, and possibly detention. We would like to point out that the notorious detention centre in Debrecen nowadays serves as a detention centre for families, many of whom come from Kosovo. We deeply hope that more families will not be detained. Who are these Kosovars, then? We know very little, and many of our knowledge is based on sources like shockingly dehumanizing comments from the newspaper Kisalföld, which explicitly points out how the Györ train station is “sanitized” after the presence of refugees. Given that Hungarian media often simply refers to refugees as “dangerous others”, often at Migszol we are asked that “who are these migrants and refugees.” Many Hungarians, we think, are not xenophobic per se, but because the number of foreigners in our country is so small, people simply don’t know who they face. Therefore, we will now shortly outline the reasons and history behind the Kosovars’ willingness to migrate to Germany.
Photo: bus station in Kosovo. Telegraphi.com
The headlines in the Kosovar media have been all the same during the last months: “Hundreds are leaving the country, boarding on buses with final destination Belgrade, from where the Hungarian border awaits their journey to Deutschland”. Since the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo that abolished visa requirements, there are at least 10 buses operating from Prishtina to Serbia. This liberalization of movement opened the doors for that class of Kosovar citizens who have faced chronic unemployment in a national economy which has hardly what to be praised about, much thanks to IMF (for background, see the IMF webpage for post-conflict structural adjustment in Kosovo). Around 70% of the young people are unemployed in the country and around 500 thousand people live with not more than 1.72 eur/day. The young people of the youngest nation in Europe in their comments before stepping into their buses comment that there is “no perspective”, “no future”, “its not only me but a lot who flood to France and Germany”, and so on.
Only in the last week in Mitrovica there were more than 700 birth certificates issued by request, which are used for minors under 16 years old as travel documents to Serbia. More than 500 students of first and secondary education have left certain regions of Kosovo in the last months. While in the capital Prishtina at least 300 students from elementary schools are being withdrawn from school by their parents in order to migrate to Germany. What we saw today in Györ was people’s determination to travel to their final destination in western Europe: there is no coming back for them in Kosovo, where there can be no future for anyone let alone the young people. Their determination to achieve their destination defies the patriotic calls from many of the politicians not to leave the country but to “build” its economy together to the other calls from embassies that everyone will be returned back. Too bad that the economy in Kosovo is hardly in the hands of Kosovars themselves, but largely conditioned by the aforementioned IMF, and of course the free trade agreement with EU, CEFTA. People’s fierce hope to migrate isn’t challenged even by calls from other fellow Kosovars who took the journey through Subotica and came back, since “the price of the Serbian smugglers in Subotica has gone too high and they only take you near the border.”
The panic aside, let’s look at the historical context and larger reasons why so many Kosovars head towards Germany. Indeed, at Migszol we think that one of the problems with the European discourse on “illegal” migration is the assumption that migration happens in a vacuum. The individual migrant is demonized, as his intention is the selfish greed to surf the European (alas, the Hungarian) welfare system. In our search for someone to blame, we turn to the migrants themselves rather than the structural conditions that caused him to move in the first place. With Kosovo, though, things are quite complicated, and Mrs. Merkel could take a look at recent history before insisting on the dubious distinction between refugees and economic migrants.
Many of us remember the tragic conflict in Kosovo the 90s. During the conflict, Kosovars did qualify as refugees, and many were given temporary asylum in Germany. After the conflict, however, just as thousands of Kosovars were not only dealing with traumas of war but also integrating to German society, the German state decided to deport them back to Kosovo, sparking anger and protests. Council of Europe called the action of deporting 14 900 “former refugees” irresponsible. A research from 2010 likewise finds that Kosovo was absolutely incapable of finding a humane reception for the people deported - many of them with children whose Albanian was poorer than their German. The reasons behind Kosovar’s willingness to migrate to Germany are more complex and historically grounded, then. At Migszol we feel like it is quite understandable: we can only ask ourselves what we would do were we in a similar situation (or, in fact, what the Hungarians are free to do in a similar situation - that is, to become economic migrants).
The case of the Kosovars in Györ and Merkel in Budapest raises further interesting questions: when does someone stop being a refugee and turn into an economic migrant? What is our Hungarian - and as Hungarian, also as European - responsibility in creating the structural conditions of poverty and unemployment that motivates people to migrate? Considering how in the last decade, Kosovars seem to have magically metamorphosed from ”good” refugees to “evil” economic migrants, does the juxtaposition of the two terms make much sense? At Migszol, we join the Kosovars themselves and the staff working in refugee camps in Hungary in regretting that the Kosovars are driven to the Hungarian asylum system because of lack of free movement, strict visa policy, poor economy partly imposed by EU and past deportation from Germany. Naturally, had they the right to return to Germany, none of this would have happened.