Poverty and discrimination drive Albanian exodus to EU

Poverty and discrimination drive Albanian exodus to EU

15th March 2010, Comments 2 comments

According to local media and rights groups, between 5,000 and 10,000 Albanians from the Presevo valley and the Macedonian region around Kumanovo just across the border have left, mainly for Belgium.

BUJANOVAC - On the main streets in Bujanovac and neighbouring Presevo glittering low-cut party dresses let customers dream of a better life far away from the unemployment and poverty in southern Serbia.

On a weekday afternoon young Albanian girls swooned over the gowns while the men congregated in smoky coffee bars.

"There is nothing to do for Albanians around here, there are a few like me who are lucky but the others are just desperate," bar owner Beki said with a dismissive shake of the head.

In the region where only an estimated five percent of people are employed in the official economy the lure of a better life in the European Union is strong, especially for the marginalised ethnic Albanian population.

In the past few months, since the EU lifted visa regulations for Serbia and Macedonia, the region has seen an exodus.

According to local media and rights groups, between 5,000 and 10,000 Albanians from the Presevo valley and the Macedonian region around Kumanovo just across the border have left, mainly for Belgium.


Travel agents tell the local population that Belgium will give them political asylum, a job, a house and a monthly allowance. A one-way bus trip costs 120 euros (163 dollars): almost half of Serbia's average monthly wage.

While many in Bujanovac and Presevo point to two local travel agents as the ones running twice weekly busses to Brussels, the travel agencies themselves deny they sell such tickets.

With great reluctance one employee of the Mimoza travel agency will admit to running one bus a week to Belgium but she insists that it is not going to Brussels and says there are few travellers.

Locals tell a different story however.

After the first people, left word of mouth did the rest. According to Belgian figures, 58 Albanians from Serbia and Macedonia sought asylum there in January and the number swelled to 330 in February.

"One person calls home to say: 'Hey, I'm in social housing here', and everyone follows one by one," Belgzim Kamberi, the head of the human rights council based in Bujanovac told AFP.

"A guy came to my office who told me he sold a cow to go to Belgium (...) others have sold their gold or their lands," he said.

Kamberi said he sees most of the prospective asylum seekers as they pass by his office to get the NGO reports on the discrimination of the region's ethnic Albanians in the hope it will help their asylum demands.

In southern Serbia and Macedonia ethnic Albanians are marginalised.

It is hard for them to get higher education or jobs because of the language barrier, and they live in one of the most underdeveloped zones in the region, for the factories that thrived in Yugoslav times are gone.

In the Presevo valley the public sector is now the biggest employer.

The asylum seekers are "young people, unemployed without income (...) who have been discriminated for decades and don't see any perspective in the region," Bujanovac mayor Shaip Kamberi, no relation to Belgzim Kamberi, told AFP.

A delegation from Belgium and the EU on Tuesday visited Bujanovac and Lipkovo in Macedonia to drive home the message that economic refugees will not get political asylum in Belgium.

Mayor Kamberi hoped that local media coverage of the Belgians' visit would dissuade potential asylum seekers, and the first media reports from Belgium seem to have have an impact.

"A crew from Macedonian television showed a Presevo man (in Brussels) telling people 'don't come here, it's a scam'. Since they showed that on television here the number of people leaving dropped," he said.

In neighbouring Macedonia the first people back empty-handed from Belgium have already spread the word.

"They lied to us," Alida, 56, from the mountain village of Lipkovo told AFP.

"They told us we would be given money and a job. They said Belgium has this law, that they would accept us there but there is nothing of the sort.

"It's better to be here at home than out on the street in Belgium. It is what it is but at least we're home."

Stephanie van den Berg:AFP/Expatica

2 Comments To This Article

  • Leposava Todorova posted:

    on 17th March 2010, 20:17:56 - Reply

    I understand completely the wish of the Albanian population from southern Serbia and Macedonia for a better life...It's a citizen's right, no matter if you are Albanian, Macedonian, Ukrainian or other, it's our human right.

    But saying that they do not have the right of education or they cannot have a job because they are Albanian, in a country where not only they can speak their language, but they have their own University, they have the Identity Card in Albanian, where the language is becoming a second language of the country, where most of the employees of the National Airport are Albanians, it's false and discriminating the majority in the country itself as well as for the other minorities living there.

    Albanians in Macedonia speak Macedonian language (most of them), they have the right to education, they have University degrees and speak several languages even and have decent life (those who want).
    They speak Macedonian more than the Macedonians speak Albanian, so soon they will have most of the jobs in the administration because of that (similar case like the Wallons and the Flemish in Belgium and more particularly in Brussels which is two-language city: French and Dutch).

    Next time you go to Macedonia, please speak to Macedonians and the others to learn about their living conditions, most of them do not have jobs, or they are losing jobs or living with 100 euros per month, even in the capital city.

    It's always good to hear the other side of the story!
    I have nothing against Albanians or others, but as long as the world knows the truth and nothing but the whole truth!!!!
    Macedonians, Serbians, Turks, Vlachs, Roms etc., they all have the same living difficulties there. Albanians are not the only ones or the only victims of the system, of the unemployment etc.
  • Maria Van Loyd posted:

    on 17th March 2010, 11:21:40 - Reply

    Albanian are very aggressive, in Herentals 2200, an albanian man named Gashi has broken the faces of young teenagers because they talk to his daughters, who are attending school in KTA. If he sees someone talking to his wife or daughter, he has 4, he will go and beat them!!! Also keep threatening that he will break whoever talk to his wife or daughters.