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News 01 Feb 16

Eurostat Data Reveal Scale of Macedonian Exodus

EU data show tens of thousands of Macedonians left to live in EU countries over the last five years, fuelling fears about a falling population and a 'brain drain'.

Ivana Kostovska
BIRN
Skopje
Photo by: Shutterstock.com

Analysis of data released by the EU statistics body Eurostat shows that in four years, from the start of 2010 to the end of 2013, 58,713 Macedonian citizens obtained permission to stay in or become citizens of EU countries.

The number is more than equivalent to the population of the fifth largest town in Macedonia, Tetovo.

Most of the Macedonians who left the country during this period went to live in Italy, the data show. The most cited reason for granting a stay permit was family reasons, while the second most frequent reason was education.

Mitko Veta, originally from the southeastern town of Strumica, is among the young people who left seeking a better life. After studying at the University in Utrecht, in The Netherlands, he is now doing Phd doctoral research at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

"I did not leave for economic reasons -  I would have probably earned decently if I had stayed in Macedonia," Veta told BIRN.

"Living in a well functioning society that shares the same values as I do, is important to me. At the time when I left, Macedonia did not fulfill those conditions and I had no hope that things will change for the better. It later proved that I was right," Veta added.

The real number of people who have left the country for the EU may in fact be considerably higher, because there is no data on the thousands of Macedonians who are leaving the country on Bulgarian passports, often issued through middle men.

Bulgaria has long said that Macedonians top the list of foreigners applying for Bulgarian citizenship, which many can get easily and which grants them easier access to EU countries, as Bulgaria is an EU member state. However, no comprehensive figures have been released.

According to the last completed population census in Macedonia in 2002, the country has a population of just over 2.1 million.

The last time Macedonia tried to carry out a new census, in 2011, the operation was scrapped because of ethnic disputes. This made it impossible to verify fears, expressed by some opposition parties, that the population may have dropped as low as 1.6 million.

The former head of the State Statistical Office, Donco Gerasimovski, says statistical institutions detect only small portion of the people who leave because they list only people who have officially announced their move abroad.

"Although by tradition we are people with a large emigration rate, in the last few years, the emigration of young people who leave for economic and social reasons has seen an increase," Gerasimovski told BIRN.

In the absence of accurate statistical data on the subject, the emigration rate has become a matter of political bickering. However, institutions are starting to recognize the problem.

A resolution on migration policies 2015 - 2020, adopted by parliament last year, notes another worrying trend, which is that Macedonia is among the top ten countries with the greatest brain drain.

"In the last five years, the emigration of highly educated people has continued. This is confirmed by the Brain Drain indicator of the World Economic Forum that lists Macedonia among the top ten countries with greatest intensity in the period 2009-2013," the resolution read.

The parliamentary resolution recommended adjusting the workforce better to the needs of the labour market, increasing employment among the young and supporting the employment of talented students at home.

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