Kosovo lawmakers back deal to rent jail space to Denmark

FILE PHOTO: Danish Justice Minister Hummelgaard attends press conference in Copenhagen

PRISTINA (Reuters) -Kosovo's parliament on Thursday approved a deal to rent 300 jail cells to Denmark to help the Scandinavian country cope with overcrowded prisons.

The cells, which will be in a rebuilt prison, are intended to hold convicted criminals from non-European Union countries who were due to be deported from Denmark after their sentences.

When the deal was first announced in 2021, it prompted concerns over the treatment of prisoners in Kosovo. Denmark said they would be treated the same and the same rules would apply as in prisons at home.

Kosovo is expected to receive 210 million euros ($228 million) over the next 10 years for 300 prison cells located near the town of Gjilan in the eastern part of the country.

The government says the money will be used to improve Kosovo's own prisons and invest in renewable energy projects.

Danish Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said the approval was good news, and the rebuilding of the prison in Kosovo can begin.

"This is crucial for us to secure more Danish prison places and will help bring our hard-pressed prison system back into balance. At the same time, it sends a clear signal to criminal foreigners that their future is not in Denmark, and therefore they should not serve their time here," he said.

Kosovo's Minister of Justice Albulena Haxhiu said in a statement after the vote, "this agreement is a proof of trust and mutual respect between our two countries."

Kosovo's prisons and detention centers are often marred by violence between prisoners, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, lack of medical care and violence by staff, rights groups have said.

The governments of both countries reached the deal in 2021 but parliament was not able to pass the law until now because of opposition parties.

The deal was passed by 86 votes within the 120-seat parliament.

($1 = 0.9217 euros)

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; additional reporting by Louise Rasmussen in Copenhagen;Editing by Alexandra Hudson)