PRISTINA (Reuters) -- EU countries should stop the forced repatriation of Kosovars as this would only worsen the economic situation in the poor, landlocked Balkan country, European human rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg said today.
"The major powers in Europe should hold back," he told a media conference. "Kosovo is not ready to receive a larger scale of people returning from other countries at this stage."
The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner said after a visit to Kosovo that sending immigrants home would have a huge impact on the country where four in 10 people are unemployed.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and its faltering economy has been strained further by the global crisis and tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. Serbia refuses to acknowledge its independence but most EU states recognize it.
Some 20-30 percent of Kosovo's mainly Albanian population live abroad. Official statistics say that remittances from the diaspora, mainly in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, account for around 15 percent of Kosovo's economy or around $5.5 billion annually.
Some EU states, having signed repatriation agreements with the Pristina government, send home thousands of Kosovars a year.
Around 30,000 young people enter the job market every year in Kosovo. Many leave the country for Western Europe, most often illegally, by paying $3,000-$4,000 to human traffickers.