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The mass exodus from the Balkans

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February 24

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Katarina Panic

Many ordinary people in Bosnia and Herzegovina – and the rest of the Balkans – believe that the region’s main problem is the mass migration of its citizens. On the other hand, politicians are aware of the situation, but they avoid prioritizing it, instead acting as if the problem will go away if they don’t solve it. As a result, no public institution has precise data on the number of people who have left the region. Instead, non-governmental organizations attempt to collect and process data to show the severity of the problem and accordingly attract the attention of decision-makers.

The media often talk about mass migration and warns the authorities against the ongoing massive depopulation. However, it can hardly be said that the demographic measures led to the desired results. On the contrary, it seems that the situation has gotten worse.

The most recent census took place in 2013 and it took three years for the results to be released due to conflict between state administrative units. Out of 3.5 million inhabitants, half a million Bosniaks have left the country over the past decade and some 170,000 just the year before, according to the Sarajevo-based Union for Sustainable Return and Integration . Catastrophic data is also visible at the micro level. For example, the city of Prijedor had around 90,000 inhabitants in 2013. Last year, there were only 699 newborns, compared to 1,630 deaths. This ratio was not an exception, but a continuing trend. It is easy to count more than 900 missing people per year. At the state level, the number of deaths is twice as high as the number of newborns. THE United Nations Population Fund estimates that fewer than 1.6 million people will live in Bosnia in 2070 if current trends continue.

And the current trends are terrifying compared to those of 2011, when the visa-free regime with the EU began and unemployed people began to leave the region. Today, entire families are leaving, even highly educated couples working in the public sector, which is considered the most privileged position. Only a few years ago, this was unimaginable. Surveys show that people are leaving to find quality education and health systems. They want better rule of law, greater security and more opportunities.

Among the standard measures that governments usually apply to prevent demographic decline, and which are most often focused on pronatalist policies, related measures Croatia introduced a new program at the end of last year, sparking a controversial public debate. The state has decided to offer compensation of around €25,000 to Croats returning from abroad or to locals who have left the cities to live in rarely inhabited villages.

photo by Imre Tömösvari

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