PRISTINA -- Kosovar Prime Minister Isa Mustafa has confirmed that his own brother was among a wave of migrants who illegally crossed into the European Union in 2015 -- and that his brother's asylum application in Germany ultimately was rejected.
The revelation, first reported by an online news portal called Insajderi.com, has been an embarrassment for Mustafa.
In February 2015, he had marked Kosovo’s seventh anniversary of independence from Serbia by urging citizens not to join the exodus and telling parliament that "people have no reason to leave Kosovo" -- despite crippling unemployment, poverty, corruption, and organized crime.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Kosovo Unit on March 21, Mustafa said he only learned after the fact that his brother Ragip Mustafa had sought asylum in Germany's southwestern Rheinland Pfalz state for "personal and medical needs."
The application was filed on June 24, just days before Kosovo's prime minister was received by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on an official visit to Berlin.
After the prime minister's brother was refused asylum by Germany, he traveled to Tirana, where he underwent surgery for throat cancer.
"He has been suffering for a long time now from a severe illness, for which he was not able to find treatment here [in Kosovo]," Mustafa said. "He never mentioned this issue with his family -- that he was planning to seek asylum and, through it, seek treatment."
"I felt bad when I heard that," Mustafa continued. "But he has shared the destiny of many of our citizens who -- for social reasons, unemployment, or even hope for solving their problems -- have chosen that way of dealing with it."
The number of Kosovars applying for asylum in the EU began to rocket during the last four months of 2014 after an inconclusive election in June of that year caused a six-month delay before Mustafa's coalition government took office in December.
Migration experts say a main cause of the exodus from Kosovo appears to have been a unemployment rate of 35 percent during 2014 and an unemployment rate of 61 percent for young people aged 15 to 24.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of Kosovar asylum applicants in Hungary -- the main entry point into the EU along the so-called Balkan migration route -- was only in the hundreds during the first eight months of 2014.
But during the last four months of 2014, there were more than 21,000 Kosovar asylum applicants.
The mass exodus continued to escalate through March 2015 until Serbia and Hungary, under pressure from the EU to stem the flow, began to impose tighter security along crossing points used by human smugglers.
Kosovar Prime Minister Isa Mustafa speaks with RFE/RL on March 21 in Pristina.
By then, another 30,000 Kosovo citizens had made their way into the EU to file for asylum -- either on their own or with assistance of paid human traffickers who helped them sneak from Serbia into Hungary.
Ironically, their journey to the Hungarian border was made easier by the fact that Belgrade in 2012, at the urging of the EU, relaxed its visa rules and allowed Kosovars to travel through Serbia legally with Kosovo-issued documents.
Previously, Belgrade had rejected those documents because it has never recognized its former southern province as an independent country.
Altogether, about 70,000 Kosovars have applied for asylum in the EU over the past two years. That makes Kosovo the fourth-largest asylum seeking nation after Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
In his interview with RFE/RL on March 21, Mustafa confirmed that other members of his extended family -- nieces and nephews -- also were among those who traveled illegally into the EU during the past two years to seek asylum.
Like almost all of the 70,000 Kosovars who have applied for asylum in the EU during the past two years, their applications were rejected. That's because migrants from Kosovo cannot claim they are fleeing a war and have a more difficult time than refugees from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, who can show that they are fleeing persecution.
"There were others from my broad family who were, at the time, deceived [by human traffickers]. They took that path hoping for something better out there," Mustafa said. "Luckily, everybody is returning and we are trying to work on advancing the health-care system so people find medical treatment in our country."
Mustafa said his government is working hard to bolster economic growth and attract foreign investment, so that jobs can be created for Kosovar citizens.
He said his government also is working "on strengthening the rule of law, so we can fulfill the visa-liberalization criteria [with the EU] and make it possible for those with certain needs to be able to travel to the EU and return to Kosovo without using illegal routes."
As to the eyebrows that have been raised in Kosovo by the revelation that his own family members have sought asylum in the European Union, Mustafa said it is up to the public to decide "whether an issue of a sick man is to be an issue" for the whole country.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Kosovo Unit