European Western Balkans

The Serbian Coordination Directorate Passport Holders are the only people in the Western Balkans who are not allowed free travel to Europe

Serbian passports; Photo: EWB

In early January, Dušan B., a 24-year-old student of medicine from Mitrovica North was accepted by the Maribor University Medical Centre for a three-month student exchange that was part of the Erasmus+ Programme. Happy to be awarded with the scholarship, he was ready to take this lifetime opportunity to advance his education and knowledge at one of the European universities. However, Dušan knows that for him it is much more difficult to get Schengen visa to travel freely to Slovenia than to get fully funded scholarship that covers all the expenses.

Despite living in Mitrovica North all his life, Dušan could not get Kosovo citizenship. His late father was from Mitrovica and mother from Serbia. They married in late 1990s in front of Serbian authorities (the only option at that time), and got Dušan in 1999. His father died in 2004. The marriage between Dušan’s parents has not been recognised by the Kosovo authorities, therefore he could not get Kosovo citizenship. They offered him an option to (administratively) bring back to life his late father, then his mother should marry his (dead) father in front of Kosovo authorities, and all this would make it possible for Dušan to get Kosovo citizenship. Dušan and his mother consider this offer to be unacceptable and uncivilized, certainly too emotional for them, so they gave up.

By not having Kosovo citizenship Dušan is not able to get Kosovo identity and travel documents, therefore he is not able to benefit from visa liberalization that was granted to Kosovo citizens as of 1 January this year. A significant number of Kosovo Serbs, Roma, and other ethnic groups, and many people from mixed marriages have similar administrative difficulties in getting Kosovo citizenship, as well as Kosovo passports.

Dušan is a citizen of Serbia who lives in Kosovo, and he is entitled only to a passport issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate, a special department of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia dedicated to the Serbian citizens with residence addresses in Kosovo proper. The Coordination Directorate was established back in 2009 during the visa liberalisation dialogue with Serbia, with the aim to replace the seven regional Police Directorates scattered over the Serbian territory, which had been responsible for issuing passports to citizens of Serbia with residence in Kosovo. These passports are biometric and have the same design as regular Serbian passports, with the only difference that the issuing authority is the Coordination Directorate, which is an indication that they cannot be used for visa-free travel to the Schengen area. However, after getting a visa, they have been used regularly by their holders as travel documents for the purpose of traveling to the EU.

According to some unofficial information, there are about 100,000 passports issued by the Coordination Directorate to the Serbian citizens from Kosovo, which, again, are not only Kosovo Serbs, but also Kosovo Albanians, Romani, Bosniacs, Gorani, or from other ethnic groups, and people from mixed marriages too. These people do not necessarily live in Kosovo at present time, they might be refugees who left Kosovo after the war, or even economic migrants (and their children) who left Kosovo in 80s or 90s. Many of them have never travelled back to Kosovo after the war, nor are they seeking to get Kosovo citizenship. However, they are all entitled to a passport which remained the last one not allowed to travel to the Schengen Area.

Since traveling to the Schengen Area has been liberalized for the Western Balkans, embassies closed their consular departments for issuing visas. This creates additional problem to the Coordination Directorate passport holders as they have no place to submit their visa applications. Dušan was persistent enough to push both Slovenian embassies, from Pristina and Belgrade, to solve his case, which they did after several weeks of calls, e-mails, and meetings. However, there are thousands of others who have the same problem, yet not the knowledge and abilities to solve it individually.

Recognising this issue, last November the European Commission proposed changes of the Regulation for holders of passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate, which was sent for adoption to the Council and the European Parliament. The Council already gave a positive decision while the European Parliament will decide this week.

Kosovo authorities are strongly opposing the idea of allowing those passport holders to enjoy the visa liberalisation, activelly advocating in Brussels against passing the Regulation. They claim the Kosovo Serbs will not integrate in Kosovo if the Coordination Directorate passports are lifted for visa. That is simply not true due to several reasons.

First, as said above, the Coordination Directorate passports are given to the Serbian citizens with residence addresses in Kosovo who might or might not be Kosovo citizens. In case they are not Kosovo citizens (and especially if they live outside of Kosovo), why the Government from Pristina should be bothered by them? In case they are Kosovo citizens, they already have Kosovo ID cards, and those people have no reason not to apply for Kosovo Passport, as many of them already did. Besides, Kosovo citizens are allowed to have dual citizenship, many are already citizens of Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, or of some EU countries, having already two passports.

The second argument of the Pristina government is that in the Coordination Directorate passports, cities of Kosovo are written as they are in Serbia. For instance, if someone is born in Pristina, in the passport is written “Pristina, Republic of Serbia”, and this is unacceptable for the Kosovo Government. It is already known that Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as a separate country, thus in all passports issued by respective Serbian authorities, not only in the ones of the Coordination Directorate, but others too (regular or diplomatic ones), towns in Kosovo are written as they are in the Republic of Serbia. In other words, the Kosovo Government arguments on the issue how Kosovo towns are presented in Serbian passports is much bigger than the issue of the visa liberalisation for the Coordination Directorate passport holders, and it should not be attached to this case.

As of 1 January 2024, holders of the Kosovo passports are entitled to freely travel to Europe without visa, leaving the holders of passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate as the only citizens in the Western Balkan region required to be in possession of a visa when travelling to the EU for short stays. The final decision of lifting visas for those citizens is in the hands of the European Parliamentarians, who will either decide this week or leave it for next year and the next term of the Parliament. Please do not let the politics to be put in front of human rights and European values against discrimination and let these people enjoy the freedom of travel as you did for all others in the Western Balkans.

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