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Kosovo 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Kosovo; Europe > Kosovo > Pristina

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Kosovo has been assessed as Level 2. Exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Reconsider travel to North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan due to civil unrest.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Pristina as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please 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

The lack of economic opportunity is a factor in crime rates in Kosovo. Crimes of opportunity are the most prevalent. Street crimes (theft, purse snatchings) are somewhat common, especially in Pristina.

The expatriate community can be a target of crime, as criminals assume that members of the community are affluent. Expatriate community members’ homes, businesses, and vehicles are, on occasion, targeted for burglaries.

  • In December 2016, two vehicles owned by official Americans were burglarized. Entry to the vehicles was gained by breaking of a window. In addition to valuables being stolen, paperwork for at least one diplomatic registration was stolen.

  • In the winter of 2015, several expatriates were victims of robberies in Pristina. These robberies were conducted with sharp-edged weapons, and resulted in minor injuries to the victims.

Criminals often commit crimes with firearms as weapons are fairly easy to obtain in Kosovo. While violent crimes do occur, the number of reported violent crimes against Americans is very small. Robberies often occur during late night and early morning hours. Some of these reports have included the assailant utilizing a weapon in an attempt to gain small amounts of cash. Victims appear to have been targeted because they were walking alone, in the dark, and/or were under the influence of alcohol. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”

ATM fraud is present in Kosovo. ATM skimmers have been found on keypads and utilized by criminals. It is suggested that freestanding ATMs be avoided, and consumers always check the ATM for irregularities before use. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.”

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please 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 (lane markers, guardrails). Kosovo is working to expand its infrastructure, and a modern highway is under construction by international contractors.

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, ongoing road construction projects, and even the occasional homemade vehicle. Defensive driving is a must. If involved in a collision, local police require you to leave your vehicle in place until they arrive. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Ice and snow on the roadways can cause delays and dangerous conditions. Authorities take measures to clear the main roads of snow, but large volumes of snow can delay clearance. Attempt to limit your driving to daylight hours when you can see and be seen better. By law, to drive on many of the mountain roads during winter requires that the driver carry tire chains in the car.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taxis are an inexpensive, safe, and reliable means of transportation. It is recommended to 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, not separate electronic devices in the car. If there is a question about the status of the meter, ask the driver.

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

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

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The airport has undergone a major infrastructure upgrade, including a new terminal facility and a new air traffic control tower. The runway remains short, however, and this 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. Pedestrians should use caution as many sidewalks are in a state of disrepair, and drivers often do not respect pedestrians’ right-of-way.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Pristina as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The international/transnational terrorism threat is similar to that faced by most European nations. Kosovo has seen a rise in Islamic extremism in recent years. A number of Kosovar citizens have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for terrorist organizations. Kosovo lacks a strong visa program and has porous borders. The return of foreign fighters to Kosovo remains a concerning issue. Since the summer of 2014, police have arrested over 125 individuals on suspicion of participating in or supporting the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In early December 2015, a police investigation conducted jointly with Italian authorities resulted in the arrest of four individuals suspected of running an ISIS cell in Kosovo. In the fall of 2016, police arrested 18 individuals in Kosovo on suspicion of participating in or supporting an ISIS planned attack in Albania. In June 2017, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a Kosovar and the leader of the Albanian jihadists within ISIS, was killed in a drone strike in Syria. ISIS members and other jihadists have called for revenge against the U.S. due to the killing of their leader.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Americans are generally well-received, particularly in Kosovo-Albanian communities, but there is a small population that can be considered anti-American/anti-Western. 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 been known to perpetuate Anti-American sentiment in Kosovo.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Pristina as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Political tensions can run high among the government and its constituents. Political parties have tried to sway votes in Parliament by utilizing violent methods, the most common being deploying tear gas during assembly sessions. These sessions are commonly accompanied by protests attended by civilians outside the Parliament building.

  • In August 2016, the Kosovo Assembly building was attacked with a shoulder-mounted rocket-propelled grenade, causing property damage to the building. In the same month, hand grenades were thrown at a television station and the home of the director of the same station; all three of these attacks were found to be politically-motivated and responsibility was attributed to members of political opposition parties.

    Civil Unrest

    Kosovo has experienced minor civil unrest in the form of political demonstrations due to high unemployment, corruption, and dissatisfaction with government actions. In December 2017, 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 has sparked public backlash as well as international condemnation.

    Protests occur in Pristina regularly, often in the downtown area near government and international organization buildings. Protests can be attended by anywhere from 25 to upward of 1,000 people. 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.

    In 2016, violent protests occurred in the downtown area of Pristina, resulting in arrests of protestors and injuries to officers and protestors alike, as well as damage to public property. Protestors threw Molotov cocktails, bottles filled with paint, and rocks toward property and police.

    Several of the protests in the last half of 2017 were against 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.

    Religious/Ethnic Violence

    In Mitrovica, tensions remain high between Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs, in part due to barricades, both physical and political, restricting freedom of movement. In other areas of the country, Serbs may be met with protests, especially during religious holidays and pilgrimages. In January 2018, a Kosovo Serb politician was assassinated in North Mitrovica. Motives behind the attack remain unknown, and the investigation is ongoing. As the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) moves to integrate ethnic Serbs into its ranks, there have been several occasions of new Serb recruits from the north 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.

  • In July 2016, an earthquake in Skopje, Macedonia, (87 km) was reportedly felt as far north as Mitrovica.

  • The USGS reports two earthquakes in Kosovo in 2015 under 4.5 magnitude.

  • The most recent significant earthquake occurred in April 2002, centered in Gjilan with a strength of 6.6 magnitude, killed one person, and injured at least 60 people.

Regions outside Pristina offer beautiful vistas and amazing opportunities for hiking, skiing, and communing with nature. Cell phone service can be limited in the mountains and other nature areas that are remote. Roads leading to these areas can be hazardous. The ability to get medical help in the mountains may be limited.

Packs of wild dogs roam some areas of the major cities and may be aggressive. Hikers have been bitten by Sharr dogs, large dogs used by shepherds, in the mountains when they have inadvertently been too close to the flock or house the dogs were protecting. For more information, please 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 do not comply with established construction standards, and 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 been accused 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, and shopkeepers are reporting 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. American investors should be aware that 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, and some of the population retains a conservative, traditional outlook. The younger generation of Kosovo Albanians tends to be accepting of non-traditional Muslim lifestyles; however, some communities outside Pristina tend to be less so.

Kidnapping Threat

There have not been any kidnapping incidents involving internationals since Kosovo’s independence in 2008. Trafficking of persons remains a problem despite government steps to address the issue.

Police Response

Kosovo Police are the law enforcement entity for the entire country, including cities, municipalities, as well as its borders. Their uniforms are light and dark blue (supervisors wear white shirts); 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 Citizen Services, during normal business hours, and the Embassy duty officer when the Embassy is closed.

Complaints against the Kosovo Police or individual officers should be sent to Police Inspectorate of Kosovo. The toll free number 08000-3333 is currently available only through a Kosovo mobile network. Alternatively, you 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 your request for a police report to ilecu@kosovopolice.com. In addition, any incidents of police corruption, bribery, or harassment should be reported to U.S. Embassy Pristina.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Kosovo Police emergency number is 192. If you or other Americans you know become victims of crime, you should contact the police and then U.S. Embassy Pristina's American Citizen Services unit. Kosovo has a victims’ compensation program for certain categories of crime, it also has 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, please refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

Kosovo Police work closely with EULEX’s (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 cannot be handled by local authorities.

Medical Emergencies

The quality of medical services in Kosovo is highly variable and does not always meet international standards. Ambulances will generally only take you to hospitals or clinics they are linked to. Calling the country’s emergency number, 194, will result in an ambulance that will only take you to the EMS triage center unless you specifically request to be taken elsewhere. Some services at this clinic fall below international standards, and budget shortfalls can compromise medication stocks.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

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

Available Air Ambulance Services

The following companies are generally accessed by an ongoing contract with a business or individual, but may also assist a non-member.

SOS International: Tel. +44 208 762 8008 (London), http://www.internationalsos.com/en/

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

Insurance Guidance

It is recommended to procure health/medical insurance that is recognized in Kosovo and which covers routine and emergency care as well as medical evacuation for the duration of your stay.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Air quality during the winter is exceptionally poor, mostly due to coal burning in homes and businesses in/around Pristina. There is often visible smoke and smog in the air, which translates to respiratory issues for residents. The U.S. Embassy maintains an air monitor, the readings of which can be accessed here. 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 U.S. Embassy Pristina does not consider the tap water in Kosovo to be potable. It is recommended to drink distilled or bottled water. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

It is recommended to follow food safety precautions to prevent food borne illnesses. Foods should be cooked long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause illnesses. Fruits and vegetables should be washed, peeled, or boiled 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” (influenza, chickenpox (or varicella), polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT)). The CDC also recommends vaccines for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, and a rabies vaccination series for individuals with high occupational risks and for individuals who are likely to be exposed to rabies-infected animals. Dogs often travel in packs throughout Kosovo, can be aggressive, and vaccination status is typically not known. 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 has been regularly identified every year as 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

There is no Country Council in Pristina. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Pristina

30 Nazim Hikmet Street (Dragodan area), Pristina, Kosovo

Operating Hours: Monday-Friday, 0800-1700

Embassy Contact Numbers

Operator: (381) 38-5959-3000

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