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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Kosovo 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Kosovo at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased cautions due to terrorism. Reconsider travel to North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan due to civil unrest.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Pristina does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Kosovo-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Pristina. The lack of economic opportunity influences crime rates in Kosovo. Crimes of opportunity are the most prevalent. Street crimes (e.g. theft, purse snatchings) are somewhat common, especially in Pristina.

There were 282 cases of robbery reported in the country in 2018. The targets included houses, casinos, micro-finance organizations, shops, markets, banks, and betting clubs. During this period, two civilians and one Kosovo Police officer died during an exchange of gunfire with robbers. Two additional robbers died during separate robbery attempts. According to Kosovo Police (KP) publications, from January through October 2018, the number of petty thefts was 5,735, while the number of grievous thefts was 5,222.

Criminals sometimes target the expatriate community, assuming that members of the community are affluent. Burglars occasionally target expatriate homes, businesses, and vehicles. In 2018, there was an attempted break-in at an official U.S. residence.

Criminals often commit crimes with firearms, as weapons are easy to obtain in Kosovo. While violent crimes do occur, the number of reported violent crimes against U.S. citizens is very small. In 2018, KP found explosives in the village of Mazgit, near the Gazimstan locality, a region along Pristina-Mitrovica motorway. Robberies often occur during late night and early morning hours. Some of these reports have included the use of a weapon in an attempt to gain small amounts of cash. Criminals appear to have chosen targets because the victim was walking alone, in the dark, and/or under the influence of alcohol. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

ATM fraud is present in Kosovo. Police have found skimmers on ATM keypads in the country. Avoid freestanding ATMs and check for irregularities before use. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Roads within larger metropolitan areas are typically in good condition, while those outside the cities range from good to terrible. Be particularly careful at night, as lighting along roadways is limited. Roads often lack proper reflective markings and safety measures (e.g. lane markers, guardrails) common on U.S. roads. Kosovo is working to expand its infrastructure; international contractors are currently constructing a modern highway.

Driving is far more difficult in Kosovo than in the U.S. for many reasons: unfamiliar traffic patterns, unobserved traffic laws, stray livestock, horse-drawn carts, infrastructure problems, and ongoing road construction projects. Practice defensive driving. If involved in a collision, local police require that drivers not move vehicles until authorities arrive. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Ice and snow can cause delays and dangerous conditions on roadways. Authorities take measures to clear the main roads of snow, but large volumes of snow can delay clearance. Limit driving to daylight hours to avoid visibility issues. The law requires that drivers carry tire chains while driving on many of the mountain roads during winter, and maintain winter or all-season tires with more than 4 millimeters tread from November 15 to March 15 in most regions.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taxis are an inexpensive, safe, and reliable means of transportation. Use established taxi companies instead of personally owned vehicles converted to a taxi. Make sure the taxi has a meter and that the driver activates it upon departure. Many meters are located in the rear view mirror and not as a separate electronic device in the car. If there is a question about the status of the meter, ask the driver.

Rail transportation is very limited and unreliable; safety equipment is often lacking or outdated.

Local buses are often overcrowded, and bus lines may be difficult to understand. Long-range, inter-city buses are usually in good condition and are an acceptable way to travel between cities or countries.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Pristina’s Adem Jashari International Airport (PRN) has undergone a major infrastructure upgrade, including a new terminal facility and a new air traffic control tower. The runway is short, which can cause visibility issues when combined with fog. Flights can experience significant delays/cancellations due to weather conditions, especially in the winter months.

Other Travel Conditions

Pristina has many pedestrians, and the city is walkable. Use caution as many sidewalks are in a state of disrepair, and drivers often do not respect the pedestrian right of way.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Pristina, where the international/transnational terrorism threat is similar to that faced by most European nations. Since independence, Kosovo has experienced a rise in Islamic extremism and as well as marked progress in the fight against terrorism. Since 2014, police have arrested over 125 individuals on suspicion of participating in fighting in Syria and Iraq. During 2018, there were no reported acts of terrorism in Kosovo.

In 2017, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a Kosovar and the leader of the Albanians within ISIS, died in a drone strike in Syria. ISIS members and other violent jihadists have called for revenge against the U.S. for killing their leader. In 2018, KP reportedly arrested five persons suspected of terrorism in an operation conducted in collaboration with German authorities. Authorities arrested another person of Kosovo origin simultaneously in Germany, based on Kosovo international arrest warrant, extraditing the person back to Kosovo.

In 2018, trials and investigations continued for 29 terror suspects. A number of Kosovar citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for terrorist organizations. Kosovo lacks strong customs controls and has porous borders. The return of foreign fighters to Kosovo remains concerning.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Kosovars generally receive U.S. citizens well, particularly in Kosovo-Albanian communities, but there is a small anti-U.S./anti-Western population. Some ethnic Kosovo-Serbs remain suspicious of the U.S. due to the NATO bombing of Serbia during the war. Returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria have perpetuated anti-U.S. sentiment in Kosovo.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Pristina. Political tensions can run high among the government and its constituents. Political parties have tried to sway votes in Parliament by using violent methods such as deploying tear gas during assembly sessions. Civilian protests outside the Parliament building typically accompany these sessions.

Protests occur in Pristina regularly, often in the downtown area near government and international organization buildings. Anywhere from 25 to upward of 1,000 people usually attend. The frequency of protests increases during times of political tension. In other areas of Kosovo, protests are more likely in ethnically divided areas or areas of ethnic tension.

Several demonstrations held in 2017 protested the government’s demarcation agreement with Montenegro and the Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo. Vetëvendosje, an ethnic Albanian nationalist political movement, and other opposition parties frequently organize protests against the government and international (including U.S.) organizations in Kosovo. These protests have sometimes involved physical intimidation and violence.

Kosovo has experienced minor civil unrest in the form of political demonstrations due to high unemployment, corruption, and dissatisfaction with government actions. In 2017, the Kosovo Parliament started a petition to abrogate the Special Court law, which has oversight over war crimes committed during and after the war in 1999. This sparked public backlash and international condemnation. During 2018, there were no major incidents that negatively affected public peace and order. The imposition of a 100% tax by the Kosovo government on Serbian products and the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces resulted in some protests by ethnic-Serbs in the north of Kosovo that were peaceful in nature.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Tensions remain high between ethnic-Albanians and ethnic-Serbs in Mitrovica, in part due to barricades, both physical and political, restricting freedom of movement. In other areas of the country, ethnic-Serbs have encountered protests, especially during religious holidays and pilgrimages. A prominent Kosovo Serb politician died in North Mitrovica assassination in 2018; motives behind the attack are unknown, and the investigation is ongoing. As the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) continued to integrate ethnic-Serbs into its ranks, there were several occasions of ethnic-Serb recruits having Molotov cocktails or explosive devices thrown at their residences.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Kosovo is susceptible to earthquakes. There are three principle seismic zones: Prizren-Peje, Ferizaj–Viti–Gjilan, and Kopaonik. Within the available data range, the highest reading for the Gjilan zone was 6.6 (in 2002), for the Ferizaj–Viti–Gjilan zone was 9.0 (in 1922), and for the Kopaonik zone was 6.0 (in 1980). Between 1900 and 2000, historical records catalogued the following earthquakes by intensity on the Richter scale: 82 earthquakes at >5 intensity; 34 at > 6 intensity; 12 at > 7 intensity; 10 at > 8 intensity; and 3 at > 9 intensity. The most recent significant earthquake was a 6.6-magnitude quake in April 2002, centered in Gjilan that killed one person, and injured at least 60 people.

Air quality is exceptionally poor during the winter months, mostly due to coal burning in homes and businesses in and around Pristina. There is often visible smoke and smog in the air, causing respiratory issues for residents. The Embassy maintains an air monitor with online readings.

Cell phone service can be limited in the mountains and other nature areas that are remote. Roads leading to these areas can be hazardous with limited ability to get medical help.

Packs of wild dogs roam some areas of the major cities and may be aggressive. Sharr dogs, large dogs used by shepherds, have bitten hikers in the mountains when they have inadvertently wandered too close to the flock or house the dogs were protecting. For more information, review OSAC’s Report When Wildlife Attacks.

Critical Infrastructure

The Pristina municipality estimates that 70% of new private construction (primarily single-family homes and new apartment blocks) built since 1999 does not comply with established construction standards; a major earthquake could devastate these buildings.

Kosovo experiences frequent electrical failures. Power generation facilities are in need of upgrades and/or replacement. The Kosovo Electricity Corporation (KEK) is a public utility and the sole public source of electricity to consumers. Its coal-fired power plants (KEK A and KEK B) are located near Pristina. These generating units are nearing or past their planned operating life.

Economic Concerns

Perceived and actual corruption is widespread in Kosovo. Senior-level public officials have faced claims of bribery, racketeering, and other forms of corruption. Corruption is widespread and reflects a “cost-of-doing business” mentality prevalent in many parts of the region. Anti-corruption efforts suffer from a lack of cohesion, forceful action, and follow-through measures, including prosecution.

Despite having EU-compliant legislation on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection, there is a general shortage of awareness. Legal professionals often lack the necessary expertise to deal with IPR cases. This situation is an impediment to franchise growth in the Kosovo market.

Counterfeit currency (euro) is an increasing trend in Pristina; shopkeepers report occurrences to local police.

Privacy Concerns

Kosovo has developed an EU-compliant legal framework to protect the integrity of personal information for citizens and residents. Implementation of these safeguards remains uneven. The business environment depends heavily on family and regional connections. Personal or proprietary information may be available to a broader audience.

Personal Identity Concerns

Kosovo has a majority Muslim population; some of the population retains a conservative, traditional outlook. The younger generation of Kosovo Albanians tends to be accepting of non-traditional Muslim lifestyles; some communities outside Pristina tend to be less so.

The Constitution of Kosovo bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Kidnapping Threat

There have not been any kidnapping incidents involving foreigners since Kosovar independence. Trafficking of persons remains a problem despite government steps to address the issue.

Police Response

Kosovo Police are the law enforcement and border patrol entity for the entire country. KP uniforms are light and dark blue (supervisors wear white shirts) and their vehicles are white or navy blue. While many Kosovar police officers speak English, a working knowledge of Albanian/Serbian or a translator may be necessary when contacting host-country emergency services.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens detained by the police should immediately contact U.S. Embassy Pristina’s Consular Section for American Citizens Services during normal business hours, and the Embassy duty officer when the Embassy is closed.

Travelers should send complaints against the Kosovo Police or individual officers to Police Inspectorate of Kosovo. The toll free number 08000-3333 is currently available only through a Kosovo mobile network. Alternatively, travelers can complete the complaint form online at this link or email to info.ipk@rks-gov.net. As a means of avoiding further potential difficulties or endangering themselves, U.S. citizens may file subsequent police reports in Kosovo after they have departed the country and without returning to Kosovo. Email the pertinent information and the request for a police report to ilecu@kosovopolice.com. In addition, U.S. citizens should report any incidents of police corruption, bribery, or harassment to U.S. Embassy Pristina.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Kosovo Police emergency number is 192. If any U.S. citizens become victims of crime, they should contact the police and then U.S. Embassy Pristina's American Citizens Services unit. Kosovo has a victims’ compensation program for certain categories of crime, and an active Victims’ Assistance Program that offers non-monetary support. The Victims Advocacy and Assistance Office (VAAO) operates under the mandate of Kosovo’s Chief State Prosecutor. The VAAO’s directive is to institutionalize the rights of victims of crime and provide them with guidance, advice, and support in accessing the justice system while seeking to establish a functional network of victim advocates.

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

Kosovo Police work closely with the EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo) international police contingent. In the event of a security incident that the Kosovo Police could not manage, EULEX would serve as the second responder, while the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) would be the third responder. As part of their routine duties, KFOR soldiers conduct border patrols and provide other security services, such as explosive ordnance disposal, that local authorities cannot handle.

Medical Emergencies

The quality of medical services in Kosovo is highly variable and does not always meet international standards. Ambulances will generally only take patients to partner hospitals or clinics. Calling the country’s emergency number, 194, will result in an ambulance that will only take the patient to the EMS triage center unless the patient specifically requests another location. Some services at this clinic fall below international standards; budget shortfalls can compromise medication stocks.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

SOS International: Tel. +44 208 762 8008 (London),

Global Rescue Services: Tel. +1 617 459 4200 (US)

Insurance Guidance

Consider purchasing health/medical insurance recognized in Kosovo that covers routine and emergency care as well as medical evacuation (medevac) for the duration of the stay.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

According to a European Commission report, “air pollution in Kosovo causes 835 premature deaths, 310 new cases of chronic bronchitis, 600 hospital admissions, and 11,600 emergency visits each year.” The European Union has described the KEK plant as the worst single source of pollution in Kosovo.

The Embassy does not consider the tap water in Kosovo to be potable. Travelers should drink distilled or bottled water. Follow food safety precautions to prevent food borne illnesses, cooking foods long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause illnesses. Wash, peel, or boil fruits and vegetables prior to eating. The CDC recommends avoiding all unpasteurized dairy products.

The CDC recommends that all travelers be up-to-date on all “routine vaccines” (e.g. influenza, chickenpox (varicella), polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT)). The CDC also recommends vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, and a rabies vaccination series for individuals with high occupational risks and for individuals who will likely have exposure to stray or wild animals. Dogs often travel in packs throughout Kosovo and can be aggressive; vaccination status is unknown. The CDC notes that tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is prevalent in forested areas of Europe, and sporadic human infections with avian flu viruses have occurred throughout Eastern Europe. The annual incidence rate of tuberculosis is high in some countries in the region. West Nile Virus is the cause of local outbreaks or sporadic cases of infection throughout east and central Europe. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Kosovo.

OSAC Country Council Information

Kosovo has an active OSAC Country Council. Interested private-sector organizations can obtain additional country specific information from osac.gov. To reach the OSAC Europe team, email OSACEUR@state.gov.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Pristina, 30 Nazim Hikmet Street (Dragodan area), Pristina

Operating Hours: Monday-Friday, 0800-1700

Embassy Contact Numbers

Operator: (381) 38-5959-3000

Consular/American Citizen Services: Telephone: +381-38-5959-3119, PristinaACS@state.gov

Duty Officer: +381 38 5959-3000 and ask for the Duty Officer

Regional Security Office: +381 38 5959-3114 and ask for the Duty RSO

Marine Post One: +381 38 5959-3114

Website: https://xk.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Kosovo should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Kosovo Country Information Sheet

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