The UK and the future of the Western Balkans Contents

Chapter 10: Migration

Migration crisis and the Western Balkans route

182.In 2015 and 2016, at the height of the migrant crisis, the Balkans increasingly became a route for those travelling into western Europe (see Table 6). There was concern that this had put “economic, logistical and political strain on the region”.235

Table 6: Illegal border crossings on the Western Balkans route


Number of illegal border crossings

















Source: FRONTEX, Western Balkan Route Frontex, 2017: [accessed 21 December 2017]

183.The 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey reduced the numbers travelling through the region significantly. According to Peter van der Auweraert, IOM, the numbers travelling through the Balkans had changed “from a situation of a large transit population to a situation of much smaller numbers”.236 This reduction in number has come about because the western Balkans route is now largely closed, in some cases with the help of EU border guards. Those still travelling on the route are either crossing borers where small numbers are allowed each day or with illegal people smugglers.237

184.Despite the strain the crisis and its aftermath had created, countries in the region had responded “in a rather organised and humane manner.”238 Peter van der Auweraert, IOM, described how Serbia was managing the “fallout from the 2015 to 2016 large streams” which had left around 3,500 migrants stranded in that country, unable to return home or continue into western Europe:

“Governments’ attitudes across the western Balkans and specifically in Serbia have been to increase their migrant accommodation capacity. The Serbian Government in particular has to be commended for increasing capacity and for dealing with stranded migrants with full respect for their basic human rights and for taking a number of helpful measures. For example, despite the fact that they have irregular status, migrant children are increasingly allowed access to Serbian schools”.239

185.It is not clear that Western Balkan countries could meet the challenges of any new migrant crisis. The Jamestown Foundation wrote, “If Turkey reneges on its agreement with the EU, the Balkans could be overwhelmed with millions of refugees that are currently residing in Turkey. The region is unprepared for large refugee inflows”.240

186.Concern is not limited to migration through the region. Some noted the possibility of increased migration from the Western Balkans to Western Europe. Andreja Bogdanovski warned that “Any escalation of violence in the region can create an influx of refugees all across Europe including the UK. The UK has been the home of number of refugees coming from the region as a result of the 1990s wars.”241

187.The FCO said that since October 2015:

“the UK Government has provided £17m in humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants moving through and stranded within the Balkans (the six countries, plus Croatia and Slovenia). This support has provided life-saving assistance such as food, water, hygiene kits and infant packs, as well as more than one million emergency interventions, such as psychosocial support to refugees and migrants.”242

Brain drain

188.There was “an accelerating trend of emigration of young and educated people” from the region, which constituted “a serious brain drain”.243 This meant, for example, “if you want a good Bosnian heart surgeon you go not to a hospital in Sarajevo but to one in Berlin, Zurich or Geneva, because that is where they are being employed.”244 This issue was raised during our visits to the region and in the roundtable meeting we held with young people from the region. Kurt Bassuener said “The clearest indicator of popular sentiment regarding the future is the accelerating brain drain from the region. Even those with decent and secure employment are choosing to emigrate for the sake of their children. A more damning indictment of local leaderships, economies, and by implication our policies, can scarcely be imagined.”245 One attendee at the roundtable meeting described it as a quiet protest against the stagnant economy, the influence of national and ethnic issues and the role of political parties.246

189.Illegal migration increases the risk of instability in the region and has a direct impact on the UK. It is therefore in our interests for the UK to continue to provide training and financial support to countries in the region.

190.The brain drain is a symptom of other challenges countries in the region face. By supporting efforts to instil good governance, combat crime and corruption, and create better economic opportunities for people in the region the UK can help to reduce the numbers of young and skilled people emigrating.

235 Written evidence from the FCO (BUB0018)

236 Q 42 (Peter van der Auweraert)

237 QQ 42 and 45 (Peter van der Auweraert)

238 Written evidence from Foreign Policy Initiative BH (BUB0025)

239 45 (Peter van der Auweraert)

240 Written evidence from The Jamestown Foundation (BUB0017)

241 Written evidence from Andreja Bogdanovski (BUB0008)

242 Written evidence from the FCO (BUB0018)

243 Written evidence from Dr Vesna Bojicic-Dzelilovic (BUB0027)

244 Q 43 (Peter van der Auweraert)

245 Written evidence from Kurt Bassuener (BUB0013)

246 See Appendix 7.

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