Friday

21st Jul 2017

Ethnic Albanians flee poverty after EU visa move

  • Daily life can be a struggle in rural Macedonia, where some people live on €20 a month (Photo: CharlesFred)

The EU's decision to drop visa requirements for Macedonia on 19 December 2009 has led to a mass exodus of ethnic Albanians from the war-impoverished region of Likove to Belgium. Nobody is entirely sure how many have fled. But the schools are emptying. Entire families have sold their possessions, uprooted, and purchased the €100 one-way bus ticket to Belgium.

The promise of better life, of opportunity, has lured hundreds to an enterprise doomed to failure.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"Better to sleep in a bus station in Brussels than here in Likove," said one villager.

Villagers have reportedly been told by relatives currently in Belgium that Belgian authorities will grant them asylum. The Macedonian government claims unscrupulous tour operators are spreading lies about Belgium's immigration policy. Tour operators deny the charge. The most likely cause is a combination of discrimination, extreme poverty, state neglect and disinformation.

In 2001 the region was entangled in war, leaving many traumatised and destitute. The lack of development and investment since then has caused despair.

"We have two lakes in the region but the villagers have no water. Instead the lake water is pumped to the nearby town of Kumanovo," said Sadula Duraku, the mayor of Likove, who claims economic discrimination.

Likove is Macedonia's poorest region and with near total unemployment. Even the fields to grow crops lie barren. Everyone in the region is ethnic Albanian - Macedonia's largest ethnic minority. Kumanovo is Macedonia's third largest city.

Forty-two children are no longer in school, according to Mr Duraku. The children, along with their parents, have simply packed up and left for Belgium.

"We will build the infrastructure to supply water to the villagers in the region and reconstruct the roads," Macedonia's deputy prime minister, Abdulaqim Ademi, said. He could not give a date and said that he is waiting for funding, however. The region has been without running water for years.

Mr Ademi said that Belgian authorities have officially registered 350 asylum claims from the region. However, not everyone fleeing to Belgium has sought asylum. It is probable that many more people have made the trip. While most have left for Belgium, others have gone to Sweden, Denmark and Germany, according to one tour operator.

In the meantime, villagers struggle to survive on less than €20 a month. The lucky ones receive extra from remittances by family members living abroad. The road leading into Likove from Arcancinovo is littered with tonnes of garbage piled metres high. The waste burns in small isolated fires, the black smoke and stench are a blight for the region, which is surrounded by snow-peaked mountains and green valleys.

Aside from media reports, there is no state-sponsored information campaign to inform villagers that Belgium will not grant them asylum, said Macedonia's minister for labour and social policy.

According to Mr Ademi, himself an ethnic Albanian, people have lost hope. The state has not invested in the region. Many buildings, like the former post-office, are empty shells - bullet-ridden and gutted from the six month war which ended nine years ago.

Flori, the co-manager of the Euro Tours bus company in Kumanovo, said that from the end of January to the beginning of February around 300 ethnic Albanians left for Brussels. Euro Tours operates just two buses.

One of Euro Tours buses had just arrived from Brussels in the late evening on 1 March. Around 25 ethnic Albanians who had left for Belgium just a week earlier were on the bus. The 36-hour journey back home had visibly crushed their spirits.

"All lies. It's all lies," said one distraught mother of two, who did not reveal the source of her information regarding the prospects for asylum in Belgium. "I'd rather sleep in my house than walk the streets in Brussels," she added, before rushing her children into a waiting vehicle.

Balkan visa-free regime under scrutiny

EU ministers of interior are set to discuss visa policy in Brussels on Thursday with several member states wanting to reintroduce visas for passport holders from Western Balkan countries.

Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU

Lawmakers in Poland adopted a controversial reform of the Supreme Court, despite warnings from the EU that the move could trigger a sanction procedure over the rule of law.

Investigation

Mafia money pollutes the EU economy

Huge amounts of money from criminal activities are funnelled into the legitimate European economy. But little is being done about it at EU or national level.

Investigation

Mafia money pollutes the EU economy

Huge amounts of money from criminal activities are funnelled into the legitimate European economy. But little is being done about it at EU or national level.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary