Kosovo institutions threaten orthodox monks and nuns with deportation

Crkva Bogorodice Ljeviške u Prizrenu
Church of the Holy Virgin of Ljeviska in Prizren, Photo: Diocese of Raska-Prizren

After an attempt to renew their residence permit, one of the monks of the Raška-Prizren Diocese faced a threat that, within a few days, he could be deported from Kosovo and Metohija (KiM). The problem of documents that the majority of Kosovo Serbs have, has proven to be one of the more serious problems Serbs have been facing in this area.

M.S. has been for years a monk in one of the monasteries of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren. Yesterday (8.11.2018) he tried to renew his residence permit in KiM. He came at the invitation of the Interior Affairs Ministry of Kosovo (MIA) to take a photo at the police in Priština, after being told he was granted a residence permit (third time in a row).

According to the previous agreement, he was expecting to have a temporary Kosovo ID card issued for the period of 5 years (regular ones are valid for 10 years). However, when he arrived, after waiting for a couple of hours, two policemen appeared and took him to a car behind the police building. There he was told his request had been rejected a month ago although M.S. had received a written confirmation that he would be granted a Kosovo I.D. He was told that the deadline for appeal had expired, so he could be immediately deported, according to the law.

When M.S. tried to calmly explain he had not received any notice of refusal, but that he was even promised he would receive an ID card, he asked for a reason for the refusal, and the policemen told him this was because he had travel documents from the Coordination Administration (i.e., documents the Republic Serbia issues for Serbs living in KiM), and that, in the meantime, the Kosovo MIA stipulated such documents cannot be used in applications for an extension of residence.

However, he was told to come the next morning, to see the head of the Migration and Foreigners Office at the MIA. So it was. M.S. arrived today (November 9, 2018) in the morning, expecting the disagreement to be resolved, but this time he received written confirmation (a decision) that his request had been rejected. He was given a new 8-day deadline to appeal, with a promise that he will not be deported from Kosovo until the appeal is decided.

Raska-Prizren Diocese was immediately notified about the case, and through our lawyers and the Diocese has been in touch with the OSCE mission that mediates in such issues.

It is particularly worrying that the monk, M.S. was told by the police to notify other clerics who have documents from the Coordination Administration for KiM that they will be deported from Kosovo if they do not obtain regular documents from the Republic of Serbia, which again, the Serbian MIA does not issue to citizens in KiM, unless they have a place of residence outside of KIM.

It should be kept in mind that most Kosovo Serbs possess only these documents and passports of the Coordination Administration (which are not part of the visa-free Schengen regime as regular documents of the Republic of Serbia are). Citizens regularly face problems obtaining visas because foreign embassies in Pristina request Kosovo passports, and when they appear at foreign embassies in Belgrade, they are told they are not authorized to issue visas to citizens of Serbia. According to the latest Kosovo rules, foreigners should apply for a minimum five year stay to obtain temporary documents. M.S., for the third year, regularly extended his stay, but suddenly faced a situation with the rule change. This is already the seventh procedural change that Kosovo institutions introduced since they promised that ecclesiastical persons (in accordance with Ahtisaari’s Annex 5), they will, with urgency, provide residency permits for monks and nuns who now live in monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija.

This attitude of Kosovo institutions towards Serbs who are living in KiM for many years is ultimately discriminatory and directly encourages emigration of our population.

On the other hand, the competent institutions of the Republic of Serbia should find a solution as soon as possible how to help their citizens, who are faced with increasingly serious difficulties, to survive under existing conditions.

Raska-Prizren Diocese believes this issue should be urgently included in the agenda of the upcoming UN Security Council session in New York, and for this problem to be included in the report of the UN SRSG for KiM.

According to the latest information which the Diocese obtained from international sources in Pristina and through the Law on Foreigners (L04/L-219) which was quoted in the refusal letter to M.S., it is possible that this is a case of technical and not substantial change to the Law implementation. In other words as M.S. has already applied for a residence permit prolongation and received it, it appears that the way of the implementation of the law has been changed and not the law itself as the Law on Foreigners specifically requests only „a valid travel document“.

However, there are also specific provisions related to clergy and monastics of the Serbian Orthodox Church in accordance to the Ahtisaari Plan (Annex V) articles 8.2 and 7A Article of the Law on religious freedom stating:

Article 7A (3):
‘There will be no arbitrary prohibition of entry in Kosovo, or residence within Kosovo for priests, candidates for priesthood, monks, nuns and visitors’.

Article 8/2:
“Unobstructed access by pilgrims, guests and persons who live permanently or temporarily in religious institutions or premises should be guaranteed. This obligation shall be taken into account for the application of the relevant provisions concerning residence and travel”

In the end it appears that this issue has not been clearly defined as the latest draft Law on religious freedom in Kosovo is stuck in the Parliament (for almost 2 years) and Kosovo institutions show increasingly less consideration for the Ahtisaari plan and its provisions, which leaves space for arbitrary decisions and interpretations of discriminatory nature as in this case. Regrettably, this and some other key issues related to the future of our people in KiM have never been discussed in the course of the Brussels Dialogue (according to our knowledge) nor do we have any information that this issue is due to be discussed. This creates a grave concern, not only for our clergy and monastics, but also our people who possess only travel documents issued by the Coordination Administration of Serbia for Kosovo-Metohija.

 

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