VUSHTRRI, Kosovo (AP) — President Atifete Jahjaga urged Kosovars Friday to stay at home, following reports that the number of people crossing illegally into the European Union in search of prosperity has soared in recent weeks.
Jahjaga visited the town of Vushtrri where thousands of citizens have boarded buses to Serbia and then made the journey into the EU.
In an attempt to stem the flux of illegal migrants she said "the solution is not to run away" and called on Kosovars to "carry the weight" of building the young country.
"Without a doubt there is disappointment, there is a worry among our citizens," Jahjaga told The Associated Press after meeting local residents. "We have had a very difficult past and we can only build our future together."
Police say some 25,000 people have crossed illegally from Kosovo into Hungary since September — alarming figures for Europe's poorest region of 1.8 million that seceded from Serbia in 2008. Some 200 people cross each day, according to a police report seen by the AP.
Serbian police said Friday that 290 people, mostly Kosovo Albanians, have been arrested in the last 48 hours, trying to cross illegally into Hungary. Police said most of the detained people will face legal action, including 15 who are suspected of people smuggling.
The U.N. says 35 percent of Kosovars are unemployed and the poverty rate is just short of 30 percent.
Kosovo citizens are subject to strict visa requirements and can only travel visa-free to Albania and Turkey.
The former Serbian province came under NATO control in 1999 after the alliance bombed Serbia for 78 days to make it end its onslaught on ethnic Albanians.
Serbia rejects Kosovo's independence but has agreed to ease travel restriction as part of ongoing EU-mediated talks to end the dispute.
Jovana Gec contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia