Home Business Young people leave the Balkans – DW – 12/23/2016

Young people leave the Balkans – DW – 12/23/2016

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Aleksa Konstantinov was one of the brightest math students in Serbia this year, but like many young people from the Balkans, he immediately left for an American university after finishing his studies.

Bosnian neurologist Sanina Babic Ribic was mocked or told that she needed “political or other support” to find a job after graduating. She moved to Germany for work three years ago and now earns “four Bosnian salaries”.

They are just two of tens of thousands of young people who have abandoned the Western Balkans in the face of unemployment, corruption and low wages, seeking better prospects in northwest Europe or America.

The World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Serbia 137th out of 138 countries for its “ability to retain talent.” Bosnia was ranked 134th and Croatia 132nd, while Albania and Macedonia were slightly ahead.

According to a recent study by the Civic Education Center of Montenegro, half of young people want to leave this small country of around 620,000 inhabitants. Studies show that most of those leaving the country as part of the massive regional “brain drain” are well-educated young people.

Tear gas in Pristina, Kosovo, during a November 2015 riot: Europe’s newest country, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has not completely calmed down and its economy remains dire, with 60 percent youth unemploymentImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Nimani

Many of the most talented young people emigrate

“Universities in the United States and Britain… offer many more opportunities,” Konstantinov, 19, told AFP by email from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently studying. Last year, a record 58,000 people left Serbia, more than double the annual average of 26,000 between 2004 and 2013, according to Vladimir Grecic, an immigration expert and professor at the University of Belgrade.

Croatia, despite its islands, its beaches, ancient stone towns and other tourism assets, has an unemployment rate of 43 percent among 15 to 24-year-olds, and its entry into the European Union in 2013 has allowed young people to flock to Germany, their preferred destination, followed by Great Britain. (Top photo: Young people at a long-distance bus terminal in Croatia.)

In Macedonia, “around 85 percent of final-year university students said they were considering their future outside the country,” according to a government report.

Kosovo is one of the hardest-hit Balkan countries: half the population is under 28, but youth unemployment stands at almost 60 percent. “Not only me, but all young Kosovars dream of leaving and continuing their professional careers abroad,” said Blerim Cakolli, a waiter and law graduate in Pristina, the capital.

Cakolli, 31, said he had been looking for a job in the legal profession for more than four years. “The lack of opportunities for young people pushes them to leave and degrades our society,” he said.

Across the region, health care providers are most likely to leave. Babic Ribic, the 37-year-old neurologist currently working in Paderborn, northeast Germany, said one of her Bosnian colleagues paid a bribe of 5,000 euros ($5,200) to get a job at the Sarajevo University Hospital. “I couldn’t afford it, neither financially nor morally,” she told AFP.

The city of Split, Croatia. Nestled on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Croatia’s orange-tiled towns and lush green mountains attract tourists. However, the unemployment rate is high and many young people emigrate Image: Getty Images/Cover/Luis Davilla

Germany attracts healthcare professionals

In the impoverished Tuzla region of northern Bosnia, Alphabet InfoCentar organizes bimonthly meetings between foreign and local employers looking for work. Mersudin Mahmutbegovic, director of the center, said Germany had signed an agreement with several Balkan countries, including Bosnia, allowing the employment of up to 250,000 people from the region in its health sector by 2020.

Short of doctors and nurses, Germany considers Balkan employees “flexible and reliable,” Mahmutbegovic said. And they are driven to leave by “the lack of jobs, low wages and poor career advancement opportunities” in their countries, said Albanian university professor Gazmend Goduzi, co-author of a study on the migration of health workers from the Western Balkans.

The Balkans appear caught in a vicious cycle: as young, educated professionals are pushed to leave due to poor economic prospects, their departure further harms the struggling economies of their home countries. Serbia is estimated to have lost 12 billion euros since the early 1990s – when the former Yugoslavia collapsed into conflict – due to the departure of well-educated young people, including scientists and technical engineers , according to local media.

In Albania, businessman Alan Zuzi said his fishing company in the northern town of Lezha nearly filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after 60 percent of its employees emigrated.

Konstantinov, a student at MIT, said young people would only stay in the Balkans if their living standards and prospects improved. “I would love to come back to Serbia one day and find a job there, because after I left I realized how much I love Serbia and that nowhere else feels like home.”

New Zealand / AFP

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