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26th Jun 2022

Youth migration 'costing West Balkans up to €5.5bn a year'

  • Amongst the reasons why the Western Balkans region has seen a rampant migration over the decades can be traced back to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the civil wars and economic hardships that followed (Photo: Charles Roffey)
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According to a research carried out by Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Institute for Development and Innovation, the Western Balkans region is losing billions of euros each year due to migration by its young citizens.

To estimate the economic footprint, the research takes into account both the costs associated with education, €2.46bn, as well as the potential loss in GDP growth due the loss of the countries' youth.

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The costs associated with state-funded education vary for each individual, and are linked to the level of education and the time spent in school - anywhere from 8 to 20 years.

Taking these variables into account, the research estimates the total education loses associated with young people leaving Western Balkan countries in one year to vary from a minimum of €840m to €2.46bn.

The study puts a price tag of around €25,000 for the total cost of schooling an individual in Western Balkans countries, representing costs associated with the nine years of primary school, fours years of secondary school and five years - on average - of higher education.

Education costs for Western Balkans nations thus become investments for those recipient countries.

"Many highly-qualified experts and entrepreneurs benefit from the possibilities of the globalised economy, because destination countries are competing with each other in order to attract highly-qualified people by offering favourable rules on entering and remaining in their countries", said Emil Atanasovski, director for Western Balkans at the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). The WFD was founded in 1992 and receives core funding from the UK foreign office.

More so that eastern Europe, the western Balkans nations have a long history of emigration, reaching levels that are among the highest in the world.

"Unlike some eastern European countries, whose populations only began migrating when they became part of the European Union, the population of the Western Balkan countries began migrating in large waves towards the West half a century ago", Atanasovski pointed out.

Amongst the reasons why the Western Balkans region has seen rampant migration over the decades can be traced back to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the civil wars and economic hardships that followed, Atanasovski said.

Bosnia-Herzegovina appears to be one of the hardest-hit countries in the region, with some studies saying that almost half of the citizens born in the west Balkan nation no longer live there.

Another striking example is Kosovo - which lost 15.4 percent of its population between 2007 and 2018.

"The structure of the current migrating population is changing, and we see more and more young people with prospects leaving to study abroad, and highly-educated and qualified people are leaving once they graduate", added Atanasovski.

The study reveals that the decrease in GDP - due to the decrease in consumption - is even more significant.

It has been calculated that Western Balkans countries lose, due to youth migration, €3.08bn each year in potential GDP growth. Adding that figure together with the estimate for educational spending brings a total of around €5.5bn per year.

Much like eastern Europe, the Western Balkans needs an overhaul of its governance and a drastic break with past practices for the trend to change.

As Armand Gosu, a political science professor at Bucharest University, told EUobserver "this is an issue to be discussed in existential terms as we are talking about the very survival of these states.

"There are no countries without people, and a state's very existence is validated through its population".

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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