Migration and security: Balkan perspectives

From state security to human security

In the beginning of 90ies, in just a few years, South Eastern Europe produced the biggest migration waves in Europe after SWW. From a total population of 80 million, ten million migrated or have been displaced because of wars, ethnic cleansing, poverty. The intensity and the explosive character of the mixture of migration, violence, ethnicity, religion, state building, redrawing of borders, transformed the Balkans into a major security concern for NATO and EU.

The chapter deals with both concepts of national and human security, but is particularly interested in the transition from the former to the latter[i]:

For too long, the concept of security has been shaped by the potential for conflict between states. For too long, security has been equated with the threats to a country’s borders. For too long, nations have sought arms to protect their security. For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event. The world can never be at peace unless people have security in their daily lives. Future conflicts may often be within nations rather than between them.  Human security is not a concern with weapons – it’s a concern with human lives and dignity[ii] .

Most studies of SEE stress on the national security because of its direct connection with the radical transformation of the Balkan geopolitical map. These intellectual discourses, however, reproduce on an academic level the dominant political discourses. In opposition to both, the chapter will privilege the human security. A key element of the conception of human security is that it is relevant everywhere – in rich, as well as in less rich nations. The analysis shares a wider understanding of non-income dimensions of human well-being, of development as expanding people’s choices in any relevant way, of Amartya Sen’s theory of capabilities focused on expanding individuals’ freedoms[iii] .

The threats to human security differ. Some are more visible and tangible: conflicts, wars, repression, and crime. Others are less tangible, but equally significant: “sudden and hurtful disruptions in the pattern of our daily lives-whether in our homes, in our jobs, in our communities or in our environment”[iv].

The national security concepts deals with states, borders, minorities; the human security concept is sensitive to identities, the cultural and moral, not only the physical integrity. The chapter examines how these apply to the interconnection between migration and security in Southeastern Europe[v].

Published In:

Krasteva Anna, Alberto Cevrone and Frances T. Pitch (2013) Transnational migration and demographic security challenges.-In: Cross, Sharyl, Savo Kentera, R. Craig Nation and Radovan Vukadinovic (eds) Shaping South East Europe’s security community for the twenty-first century, New York: Palgrave , 166 – 196.


Out of the four types of migration which Martin Edwards-Baldwin[vi] uses to characterize the Balkan migrations in the first half of the 90ties, three are non-labor: forced, ethnic, and trafficking. “These population movements had ramifications for security within the Balkans and also for Western Europe, thus implicating both the EU and NATO”[vii]

 Forced migrations

 While the Eastern Balkans went through a difficult, but peaceful process of political transformation,  “former Yugoslavia underwent processes of sanguinary destruction, followed by civil war in 1992 and 1995, i.e. ‘social explosion’ resulting in the creation of new, independent, ethnically homogenous states and enormous flows of forced migrants. Political elites were pursuing their dream of nation-states as communities based on blood by, inter alia, instigating large-scale migration waves and assimilating populations. The flood of refugees was one of the immediate political and strategic military objectives in the Balkans during the 1990s”[viii]

Wars in former Yugoslavia produced huge migration waves:

  • The most dramatic case was the Bosnian one – more than the majority of the population has been displaced: 2.6 million IDPS, among which 1.2 refugees.
  • 300-350,000 Serbs flew from Croatia to Serbia and Bosnia;

At the climax of the armed conflict among former Yugoslav nations in 1993, there were around 2.5 million refugees and displaced persons in the region, which made up 1/5 of the total number of forced migrants in the world (15 million)[ix].

Kosovo was the next step of significant displacement. The first wave of 1998 accounted 350,000. The first part of 1999 another huge wave flew Kosovo for three different destinations:

  • 450,000 to Albania
  • 250,000 to Macedonia
  • 70,000 to Montenegro

In June 1999, which marked the end of international interventions, 600,000 returned. Paradoxically, forced migration is rarely fully discontinued with the end of the conflict. The case of Kosovo is characteristic of forced displacement that causes further forced displacement. The return of Kosovars resulted in the reverse exodus of 230,000 Serbs and Roma to Serbia and Montenegro.

These flows have been both forced and ethnic.  Three of the consequences will be analysed: ethnic homogenisation, refugee problems, and the return.

The tremendous homogenization of the region is the most dramatic result of forced displacements. If we compare the maps of the ethnic composition of BH before the war (1991), and after (1998), the differences are striking. In the beginning of 90ies, the map is colorful; we observe a nice mixture of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs in different proportions in a lot of districts. By the end of the 90ies, the map clearly differentiates “pure” ethnic districts were Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs live among themselves, separate from other co-nationals (with a few exceptions of Bosniaks and Croats). The geography of ethnic communities is ‘translated’ also in the political life: the parties and the vote follow ethnic lines. The choice of an ethnic model of the nation and the total disregard for a civic model from the international community creates a highly unstable political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which fails to satisfy both the citizens, and the EU. It serves opportunistic elites, and cannot guarantee sustainability. With democratic deficits more visible than democratic achievements, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a serious challenge for national, regional, and human security.

The second challenge of forced migration is the high percentage of refugees and IDPs in the Western Balkans. The following table illustrates the specificity of the phenomenon: most Balkan countries both produce and take in refugees. Serbia is a case in point. It hosts the largest number of refugees and IDPs in Europe. At the same time, a large number of asylum seekers in the EU come from Serbia[x].


Table 8.1 Refugees from, Refugees in and IDPs in five SEE countries as at January 2011


  Refugees from Refugees in IDPs
Bosnia Herzegovina. 63004 7016 113365
Croatia 65861 936 2125
Montenegro 3246 16364 0
Serbia 183289 73608 228442
Macedonia 7889 1398 0


Source: UNHCR[xi]

Aside from the victims, the refugees are those who pay the highest price for the wars. They are the ones forced to leave their homes. Even if they find asylum, their life is hard – generally harder than the neighbouring population, even from the same ethnic background:

Refugees of Serbian ethnic origin represent a cruel testimony to the failed war adventures of previous authoritarian regimes (including all three sides involved: Serbian, Croat, and Muslim). In the country of destination, Serbia, they are marginalized. The main reason is that Serbia itself is passing through painful and stalled socio-economic transformations, and hosts a huge number of impoverished, unemployed, socially disadvantaged individuals. Therefore, the refuges were bound to pay a double price of social exclusion: the general price of social transition of overall population of Serbia plus their own specific price, the one that stems from their refugeehood[xii]


The third consequence is the return. The politics of the return are amongst the priorities of the international community. Its key role stems has two dimensions: the symbolic value of the return as the end of forced displacement and the return as one of the most efficient ways of improving human security.

The concept sustainable return is coined to highlight the importance of the individual in the politics of return. It encompasses not just the simple act of physical return to the homeland, but the totality of conditions for lasting and successful return: security and freedom of movement; access to public services – health and education; access to shelter (return of property and assistance in the reconstruction of housing), economic options (fair and equal opportunities to employment). The criterion of assessment is the comparison between the personal situation before the refuge, the personal situation in the refuge, and the situation of the new neighbors. The returnees are such a diverse group that a complex typology is offered[xiii]. They are divided in two main groups: returnees and non returnees. The former are subdivided in three categories: ‘final’ (returned definitely or because the conditions in refuge were worse or because prefer ‘to die home’), ‘transnational’ (living here and there) and ‘temporary’ (ready to continue the migration to another destination). The non returnees are ‘hard’ (those who participated in the wars and conflict and/or do not accept the new states) and ‘soft’ (those who would return if the conditions home get equal or better than in refuge).[xiv] The non returnees are the most visible sign of the trauma and of the difficulties of reconciliation.

 Ethnic migrations

 Forced and ethnic migrations overlap. Most of the forced migrations are ethnic, as we have seen in the previous part. The distinctions are of two types: ethnic migrations concern minorities; several of them are not voluntary, but are not provoked by wars either.

A case in point is the mass emigration of 350,000 Bulgarian Turks to Turkey in 1989.[xv] The reason was the assimilation policy of the communist regime which culminated in the forced name change of about 850,000 Bulgarian citizens – Turks and Muslim Roma. This was the largest ever name-change campaign in Bulgarian history[xvi]. A hundred and fifty thousand of them returned after the fall of the communist regime, but 214,000 remained permanent residents of Turkey. “The exodus provoked a grave economic and political crisis in Bulgaria, as well as harsh international criticism, and was one of the factors that contributed to the fall of the communist regime”[xvii] At that time it was the biggest migration wave after SWW, and it destabilized Bulgaria. The wars in Yugoslavia a few years later were to set new migration records.

The most visible type of ethnic migration is the one of Roma, mainly from Rumania and Bulgaria. “In the twentieth century, the solutions favored for managing the issue of large ethnic minorities have been exchange of minority populations, forcible assimilation and toleration of ethnic difference. One ethnic group which ended up being neither exchanged, assimilated nor tolerated was that of the Roma”[xviii] Poverty, unemployment, analphabetism, portray the most disadvantaged minority in the Balkans. These negative characteristics have been aggravated the last two decades and testify of the failure of the post communist social policy, which turned out to be even less effective than the communist one.

The situation of the Roma minority is among the main social risks. As it was both logical and predictable, many Roma tried to find out in the migration an exit from the social impasse.

If there is a form of intraeuropean mobility[1], which is directly linked to security, this is the Roma mobility. A list of governments – in Italy, France – restrict the right of free movement of people in regard the Roma, and apply different forms of expulsion. The case in France is highly indicative. The restrictive policies of the right-wing president Nicolas Sarcozy to expulse Romanian and Bulgarian Roma is continued by his left-wing successor Francois Hollande. Policies seem to be more durable than governments.

Other forms of ethnic migration can be found in Romania – the migration of the Hungarian and the German minority. Over the decade of 1990s, 105,000 Germans and 37,000 Hungarians left Romania for their kin states. Ethnic minorities have more or less ceased since 2000[xix]


 Trafficking is the modern form of slavery, a major security concern because of the mixture of exploitation of human beings, illegal crossing of borders, and mafia networks. Trafficking of human beings is the most rapidly increasing form of crime. It is comparable to the two other forms of trafficking – arms and drugs – and succeeds in generating even higher profits. The reason is the specific ‘material’ – human beings can be bought, used and sold several times[xx].

The Southeastern European traffic could be summarized in six trends and characteristics:

  • Trafficking in Eastern Europe is a post communist phenomenon. This is the most paradoxical and negative dimension of the democratization and opening. Communism did not allow the most normal form of labor migration, but was efficient in combating and preventing illegal forms like trafficking. Despite the important resources in anti trafficking activities, post communism is less efficient in combating, even in decreasing this negative form of migration.
  • Trafficking from Eastern to Western Europe is among the most rapidly increasing. For a few years, it even succeeded in displacing from their central role other strong players from Asia, Africa and Latin America in this highly competitive market.
  • All Balkan states – the former Yugoslav countries, Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria – are included in trafficking as sending or transit countries, sometimes with both functions;
  • Some countries are more active in trafficking. Ninety percent of victims were from five countries: 28% from Albania, 26% from Moldova, 17% from Romania, 10% from Bulgaria and 9% from Kosovo[xxi].
  • The transformation of some states such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in destination countries is a relatively recent phenomenon. The main pull factor is the presence of international forces, including military personnel.
  • Albania and Romania are among the biggest regional exporters of trafficking for sexual exploitation.[xxii]

The policy of combating trafficking is organized around the 3P strategy – Prevention, Prosecution, Protection. Each addresses a different target group and a different stage of trafficking. The first one addresses the most vulnerable groups and the potential victims, and is realized through a communication strategy; the second implies the law enforcement against the organizers; the third one aims at assisting the victims to overcome the trauma and to create conditions for starting a new life in a secure environment.

Trafficking remains a major security threat. The forced ones are more numerous and dramatic, but also temporary and decline with the conflicts from which they originate. Trafficking is a permanent security challenge.

Chronology of migration waves

The migration champion of Europe – the Balkans quickly gained this reputation in the beginning of the 90ties. The above period is characterized by rather contradictory trends in the Eastern and Western sub regions. “There is hardly another region of the world where the current situation of migrations is still considerably influenced by the past history as in the Balkans”.[xxiii]  The format of this chapter does not allow for a detailed discussion of the historical trends, but also excludes the possibility for the present conditions to be analyzed outside the context of the radical historical changes that took place in the past two decades. Three periods can be differentiated after the fall of the Berlin wall.

The first period is from 1989 to the mid 90ties which also marks the end of the wars in former Yugoslavia. The period is characterized by three tendencies:

  • literal ‘flight’ of the Western and Eastern Balkans’ population towards two opposed migration poles;
  • sudden and huge increase of the migration flows;
  • multiplication of the forms and considerable increase of the intensity of both non-labor and labour migrations.

The Eastern Balkans are undergoing a transition from « politization to economization » of migration; the Wеstern – just the opposite – from « economization to politization ».

The communism considered migration as a top security issue. Migrations – both outward, and inward – were strictly controlled by the state. They were kept to a minimum in both directions and were discussed solely in the light of state security and interest. Any desire for education in a foreign university or professional realization abroad was treated as political betrayal of the regime. The inflows were limited, and all were inspired by strategic reasons: students from the Third World in the perspective of preparing the elite for the future socialist revolutions in their countries; the rare left-wing refugees from Greece or Turkey as a sign of the socialist solidarity; even the exceptional cases of labor migrations – the Vietnamese in Bulgaria in the 80ies – were a ‘gesture’ to brotherland countries.

After the post communist changes in Romania and Bulgaria, as well as in Albania, a quick and radical transition from closed to open society took place. One of the first and most sought-after freedoms of the post-communist transition was the freedom of movement, and every one in ten citizens in Bulgaria, and every one in four in Albania, took advantage of it. From major state security priority, migration stepped down to the individual level. For the first time in half a century, migration entered the realm of human security and became a means for numerous Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians to escape the unemployment, economic crises, the collapse the of socialist social state.

The Yugoslavian model was more open and emigration and circular labor migration were its expression. The outburst of conflicts and wars opened the floodgates of vigorous dislocations. The economic logic of mobility during the times of the Federation was drastically replaced by the political and military logic of the forced dislocations.

The second period started after the Dayton Agreement of 1995, and ended in the first decade of the new century with the accession of Slovenia (2004), Romania (2007), and Bulgaria (2007). It has two characteristic trends: transition to post-conflict migration flows on the Western Balkans and gradual and slow Europeanization of the migrations on the Eastern Balkans.

The policy of voluntary return of the forcefully displaced was given absolute priority.

If the migration panorama in former Yugoslavia has to nurse the wounds caused by the conflicts, the refugee profile of Romania and Bulgaria is acquiring a European appearance: it does not originate in neighboring countries but in far-away ones – the classic sources of global refugee flows – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc.

Immigration is gradually beginning to receive political and economic visibility. This is a period of gradual rehabilitation of labor migration. It is no longer one form of migration along many others; it occupies an ever more central position in the migration panorama.

At the moment we are in the third period, when European integration is already a reality, forthcoming or pending for the whole region. Labor migration gradually occupies a central position as the main source of both emigration and immigration.

The economization of migration began to gradually diminish the differences of the early 90ties; we witness an increasing convergence of the types of migration flows and trends. The signs of radical change in the migration situation as a result of the crisis are still missing, which is an argument for refraining from formulating a new – ‘crisis’ period.

Labor emigration still prevails over labor immigration. Seventy thousand of the 24.7 million population of the Western Balkans have the desire to emigrate – the potential emigration is “considerable” but not “mass”.[xxiv]

Southeastern Europe has travelled far to rehabilitate the economic push factors and make the theme of labor migration legitimate and central. The end of forced displacements because of war and ethnic cleansing marks a considerable improvement of the security agenda.

Typology of national migration models

Every country has its unique migration profile. The task of this analysis is to spread the diversity along some analytical axes and offer a typology. Among the various migration experiences in the different countries, the chapter outlines four types:

  • Post-conflict. Elements of which we find in most countries of former Yugoslavia, but is most represented in Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  • ‘All inclusive’ – this image we use to name the migration profile which includes all types of migration. A typical example is Albania;
  • New emigration ‘champion’. The country that attracts the attention of the European public because of its considerable and intensive migration is by all means Romania.
  • Immigrational. The country in the region that first began experiencing the transition from emigration to labor migration is Slovenia.

The brief analyses that follow do not aim to deal with the unrealistic task of presenting in depth and detail the respective countries, but single out the elements in their migration profile that make them representative of the given model.

 The post-conflict model – Bosnia and Herzegovina

 It is not by coincidence that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the country where the policy on migration is overinstitutionalized: all fourteen governments had ministries responsible for refugees and return. It is not by accident that the responsible institution in Bosnia and Herzegovina is called Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees. The suffering of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who paid the highest migration price in the conflicts and wars in former Yugoslavia, calls for institutional counterbalancing on both national and international level.

The other logical and expected fact is that in the decade after the Dayton Agreement, the return from exile comes into the centre of migration policy. Fifty percent of the refugees and temporarily displaced persons[xxv] returned in that period; after that the return continued but at a much lower rate:

 Return of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the support of IOM in the period 2001 – 2011
























Source: B&H, Ministry of security B&H, Migration profile, Sarajevo, March 2012, p. 45.

The return is not always a smooth process: some refugees are returned/sent back/returning from countries that no longer offer their hospitality, while the home countries are not able to provide housing or other solutions which would make the return possible. Sixty percent of the returnees from Germany are made to settle in towns or villages different from their own that leads to changing their status of refugees to that of displaced people[xxvi].

Nowadays we can outline two tendencies: the first one is the terminal fading of returns[2][xxvii]. The other is the introduction of higher criteria by which the international community evaluates its impact. The term “sustainable return”[xxviii], which links more explicitly to the right to jobs, homes, and healthcare, is being used.

Both tendencies illustrate a migration model, marked by forced migration, is coming to an end, transitioning into a normal model of migration. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are among the most mobile in Europe; they form the largest immigration group in Slovenia, the third largest in Austria and the fifth largest in Sweden[xxix]. Emigrants reach the impressive number of 1 350 000[xxx] coming from a population of just 3.8 million.

A new and interesting tendency is symptomatic for the changing profile. Over the past few years there has been an abrupt fall in the attractiveness of the traditionally most prestigious destination – the USA (from 15 000 emigrants in 2000 to 3 789 in 2006), while the attractiveness of Slovenia has risen: the migration towards a neighboring Balkan country grew more than 6 times (from 2016 emigrants in 2000 to 12 477 in 2007)[xxxi].

This fact could be seen as the symbolic reconciliation with the region and also as a positive rating of the opportunities for employment that it provides.

 All inclusive: Albania

 “Country on the move[xxxii]. “Migration is one of the most important social and economic phenomena affecting Albania. Since 1990, almost a quarter of the Albanian population has left the country along with a large urban-rural migration.” The characterizations of researchers and international organizations such as IOM introduce the first two aspects of the Albanian model: huge numbers – every one in four Albanians is a migrant; as well as a deep socio-economic impact. The very structure of Albanian population is being changed. On the one hand, Albania has positive demographics – one of the highest in Europe. On the other, emigration is age and gender selective, which leads to two negative consequences: reduction of the relative quota of employable young people, and the accelerated ageing of the Albanian population [xxxiii]. Demographic imbalance is a serious issue. Equally serious is the socio-economic imbalance: the level of remittances is three times higher than the direct foreign investment and nearly twice as much as the help that comes from international sources. The centre of development is moving from the country to its Diaspora: “Diaspora becomes increasingly important for the growth and the socio-economic development of the country”[xxxiv].

Another dimension of the Albanian model is found in the variety of the forms of migration. This is a small country producing large traffic. The pair « irregular migration – forced return » is clearly manifested: several hundred thousand Albanians have been returned from the European countries. Typical of the Albanian experience are some « exotic » forms of migration such as the 5000 Albanians who sought asylum at the embassies of western countries in Tirana (June-July 1990), the ships overloaded with would-be emigrants traveling to Italy, the wave of migrants after the crisis with the financial pyramids[xxxv].

A number of researchers stress the specific character and uniqueness of the case of Albania: « laboratory for the study of migration and development »[xxxvi], « new migration order »[xxxvii], « significant and unique case »[xxxviii].

Some Western perceptions describe the Balkan migrations as « Balkanized »: exotic, with tendency for irregularity, multiple – both in terms of forms and numbers. Albanian migrations are often perceived as their closest illustration.

 New emigration « champion »: Romania

 « Visible, but not numerous » – this is how the French researcher of Romanian origin Dana Diminescu summarized Romanian migration in the EU just seven years ago[xxxix]. Time has accentuated the first characteristic and made the second invalid: Romanian immigrants in the EU are around 2.5 – 2.7 million. According to OECD data, just in Italy the number is quarter of a million in 2008 – 796 000, twice as much than in the previous year. The situation in Spain is completely symmetrical: 797 000.

To a great extent, Romanian emigration offers a synthesis of the specifics of the outward flows from SEE. It is best explained by the neoclassical economic theory which has two conceptual centers: the differences in salaries and the geographical differences in the supply and demand of the workforce[xl]. Romania is characterized by both oversupply of labor and low income: « the first year of economic restructuring brought also a diminishing of the real earning. Considering the value of 1990 as a reference point (100%) in 2000 the real earning barely reached 59% of this value. Although the real earnings increased constantly in 2006 they still represented only 97.4% of the 1990 value »[xli]. Two external, European factors made migration flows easier and more numerous: the opening of the Schengen Area for visa-free travel in 2001 and EU membership in 2007.

The case of Romania illustrates two of the advantages of emigration for the sending countries: reduction of the pressure on the local labor market and remittances. Romania never reached the unemployment levels of neighboring Eastern European countries; unemployment fell from 10.04% in 1997 to 4.1% in 2007 before the crisis[xlii]. Romanian President Traian Băsescu summarized in an attractive way the two advantages by appealing to emigrants not to return because the country needed their remittances [xliii], and also because it could not offer them any jobs.

Romania illustrates the appetite that the population of SEE has for emigration, stimulated by European integration and the free movement of labor. Economic theories of migration argue that labor mobility will continue to attract many citizens of the new or future member states until considerable differences in the earnings and quality of life continue to exist.

 The immigration model: Slovenia

 The transition from emigration to immigration increases the countries’ self-confidence and the discourses on immigration often precede its stable and sizeable qualitative expression. One of the countries, where reality is quite close to the discourse, is Slovenia. The other one is Croatia, which also has a positive net migration balance, but mainly because of returnees (0.5 according to IOM data, 2010). The net balance of Slovenia is 2.2. The percentage of foreign population is about to reach European levels: 8.1%. The percentage of immigrant is labor is even higher: 10%. The citizens of other EU member states are not many – 0.2% of the population[xliv], but relatively more numerous than that in Bulgaria and Romania.[xlv]

Two aspects are to be emphasized: the clearly regional profile of the immigrants and the regional policy of Slovenia. According to data provided by Eurostat, of the top five foreign nationalities, four are from former Yugoslavia: 47.3% of all immigrants are from Bosnia and Herzegovina, 20.1% – from Serbia, 10.9% – from Macedonia, and 10.2% – from Croatia[xlvi]. Ninety-five percent of the work permits are for nationals of the former Yugoslav republics, the majority are issued to people from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The regional migration policy of the country has two dimensions: bilateral and multilateral. Slovenia has entered into agreements with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina for the employment of their nationals and after the crisis will most probably continue establishing similar agreements. The more ambitious goal is to provoke a debate about the creation of a zone for free movement of the workforce in the Western Balkans in the period before the EU accession of the rest of the countries[xlvii].

The Slovenian example presents an interest on two levels: « regionalization » and « europeanization ». The country is characterized by intensive regional migration, which is being supported [xlviii] by the active policy of the country in the Western Balkans. Slovenia is a leader in the implementation of the Mediterranean model of transition from emigration to immigration. This is precisely the motorway that would shade the Balkan specifics and would gradually lead to the acquisition of a European migration profile.

There are, of course, no pure models, and there are no countries that belong to a single model. Croatia can be characterized as a mixed type between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia, as well as – in different ratios – Macedonia and Serbia. Moldova is similar to Albania, Bulgaria[xlix] comes close to the migration profile of Romania, but operates on a smaller scale. Time will show how the migration models of Montenegro and Kosovo will crystallize.

The security dimensions of the four types vary considerably. The migration model of BH is still fragile, marked by the wars and ethnic cleansing, it returns slowly to normality. Albania has also been a great security challenge in the 90ies with its numerous and ‘exotic’ migrations. Romania as a huge producer of migration to EU has a typical East European profile – the Romanians in EU are numerous, yet they are labor migrants. The main security challenge, according to several EU governments e.g. in France, Italy, etc, remain the ethnic migrations, namely Roma. Slovenia is already a host country for numerous Balkan, especially Bosnian migrants and ambitions to become a factor of stability and regional cooperation.

 Immigration or the new attractiveness of SEE

The newer and more unexpected the phenomenon, the bigger the public interest it attracts. The number of immigrants to Albania is insignificant; the net balance is strongly negative: -6.5, but this is what comes first in IOM’s immigration profile of the country[l].

Four groups of labor migration may be distinguished in SEE:

  • Immigrants from former Soviet Union not concentrated in ethnic niches, but dispersed in the society and , as a rule, well integrated;
  • Small, middle, and sometimes bigger business people and entrepreneurs and self-employed immigrants;
  • Immigrants employed by other immigrants, by local business people – or very rarely – by the administration;
  • Highly-skilled experts, consultants, and investors.

Immigrants’ origin varies in the different countries. An important group consists of the immigrants from former Soviet Union – Russians and Ukrainians in Bulgaria, Moldovans in Romania. They differ from some other migrant communities more concentrated in a few economic niches. The Russians, Ukrainians, Moldovans are more evenly present in various socio-economic spheres and quite well integrated. They are among the rare immigrants to be employed also in the public administration.

Another important migrant community is the one of tradesmen and business people from Arab countries such as Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, as well as from China.

Representatives of the same countries are found in the third group. In periods of economic development and growth, immigrant workforce fills certain shortages: in construction – Ukrainians in Romania, Vietnamese in Bulgaria; in the textile industry – Chinese in Romania[li]. Trade and restaurants are the main economic niches where many of the immigrants are concentrated.

The fourth group originates from the EU, the USA and other developed countries: every one in four immigrants in Romania is from the EU – 24% from Italy and 18% from Spain[lii]; the same (26%) is the relative percentage of EU citizens in Croatia. The highly qualified professionals from the developed countries work with the foreign investors, at the representations of international organizations, and as consultants for local institutions.

The quantitative expression of immigration [liii]is quite modest so far: 0.6% of the population in Romania[liv], and 1.4% in Bulgaria[lv]. This group’s political and symbolic significance is much higher. The first is related to the specifics of immigration in the new EU member states and the need for adapted public policies. An interesting paradox seen in countries with new immigration, such as Romania and Bulgaria, is that its profile is more positive than that of countries who have had decades of migration history: several immigrants have their own business and create employment opportunities for their families and other workers.

The symbolic dimension of immigration is of great importance as well. For countries abandoned by a multitude of emigrants seeking work and opportunities abroad, immigrants, who invest similar energy, labor, and existential meaning, are the bearers of a strong message of attractiveness and new opportunities.

City policies: new prospects for the integration of immigrants

Whether the regional level in the management of migration and integration would become equally significant as the national or European levels would remain an open question. I would open the debate with three groups of considerations: on European, regional and local levels.

One of the most original and long-term directions in integration policy is the autonomization of cities. From splendid capitals to modest settlements – cities are more often and more ambitiously engaged in the development of their own integration strategies. Because of two different reasons. The city[lvi] is the privileged place for including immigrants in the accepting society. The second, and less obvious, but also significant from a political point of view – because cities can develop integration policies that are different from the national and achieve strikingly better results. Austria is at the bottom of the integration index ranking, but Vienna is among the most convincing European examples of a diverse and interesting integration policy.

In addition to the general advantages, equally valid for the region as well, in terms of Eastern Europe, I would add one more argument in favor of city policy. It is related to the democratic potential of the approach because it directs cities to actively participate in networks such as Creative Cities, Eurоcities, and Open Cities. They allow hierarchical relations such as these between central and local authorities, to be complemented by the horizontal ones of relations with similar or positively different cities.

We would illustrate these arguments by citing a good practice – the participation of Sofia in the Open Cities network. Like many other networks with attractive names, it promotes a dynamic understanding of migration as a resource. It develops on three levels:

  • Leadership and management on which the strategic vision for the city is defined;
  • Inclusion and integration where a range of measures – starting with meeting the immigrants to their integration – is displayed;
  • Internationalization where migration is seen as a factor for international visibility, attractiveness and dynamism of the city.

The migration strategy adopted in Bulgaria defines national security as its core and main focus. Sofia’s participation in the Open Cities project is an opportunity for the capital to work towards a more open and positive understanding of migration.

Migration trends: from extraordinary to ordinary flows

If we assume the impossible task of summarizing by a single word the complex, contradictory, and diverse Balkan migrations at the beginning of the 21st century with direct impact on security, it would be « normalization ». This movement takes a variety of expressions; we will delineate four main trends[lvii]:

  • From forced migrations to returns. Conflicts and wars in former Yugoslavia produced huge numbers of IDPs and refugees. Seventeen years after Dayton agreement, return still remains an « unfinished business »[lviii]. Many IDPs and refugees will never return to their native places, because these places are not the same, and interethnic structures have changed. Return, has, however, become a viable alternative to displacement.
  • From ethnic to economic logic. Second only to forced migrations, ethnic migrations have been an important type of human mobility in the end 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. A decade later the same populations return to the same destinations, but the logic is no longer ethnic but economic. One third of a million Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin, who, on the eve of change, were made by the communist authorities to leave for Turkey, are a case in point. A few years later on, the economic difficulties push many representatives of the biggest minority group in Bulgaria to find jobs either in Turkey, or in Germany, as network theory rightly anticipates. Push factors have been transformed from political to economic.
  • From mass emigration to temporary or circular migration. Women gathering strawberries in Spain returning home for the winter; men working in construction abroad with their families remaining at home; highly qualified professionals moving from one job to another, irrespective of the country – temporary and circular migration take a diversity of forms. Nowadays it affects all professions – from seasonal workers to experts. Return becomes a usual element of labor mobility plans. More than half (60%) of those who plan to migrate, intend to do so for just a few years[lix].
  • From emigration to immigration. Bosnians, Serbs, and Macedonians in Slovenia; Austrians, Germans, and Dutch in Croatia; Chinese almost everywhere; Russians, Ukrainians, and British in Bulgaria; Moldovans and Italians in Romania – immigration in SEE is a fact. The pull factors vary from the soft climate and beauty of the Adriatic coast, to the relatively low cost of real estate in Bulgaria and Romania, to the economic niches in the relatively new market economies. Emigration still largely prevails over immigration, but EU integration may reverse the picture, as it has already done so in Slovenia. The Mediterranean model that transformed Spain, Italy and Greece from emigration to immigration countries only two-three decades ago could be realized in several Balkan countries[lx].

In security terms Balkan migrations have passed from high risk to low risk level. The consequences of forced migrations – war refugees and IDPs – still influence the migration panorama, but the latter gets normalized.


Looking for a job and not seeking asylum. For labor migration, jobs, and better quality of life, to be top reasons for human mobility, is a huge step forward that occurred over the past two decades – both for those who left the closed societies of countries like Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, and for those from the post-conflict and post-war countries of former Yugoslavia. It illustrates the transition from state to human security. This is the first positive conclusion.

The second is the possibility to discuss the Eastern and the Western Balkans as a single analytical entity. Two decades ago this was impossible; the two parts of the region were developing in opposite directions: Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania were transitioning from closed to open, from political to economic migrations; former Yugoslavia was going through the opposite transition. The past years mark a nearing in the migration development of the two parts of the region, reducing significantly the security risks.

The main security concerns are related to the high level of trafficking and to some forms of ethnic migration such as the Roma one.

Labor migration today is central to all national migration models in SEE in relation to all flows – both inward and outward.

Labor emigration still prevails over immigration – with the exception of Slovenia – but the significance of immigration as a possible centre of migration models in the midterm future is growing. The day when pull factors reach the strength of push factors, the citizens of the region will celebrate the end of “balkanization” and will welcome a new image of an attractive and hospitable region. This day is not tomorrow, but it is in the foreseeable future. Other phenomena lead to various complications, but still bring light to the picture.

The nexus security – migration greatly differs between Western and Southeastern Europe. In EU-15 asylum seekers, especially in large numbers, e.g. in the mid 90ies, are considered a serious challenge to security. The refugees in EU originate from distant countries; the refugees in Western Balkans come from neighboring states. The former result from regional conflicts with global impact initiated far away from Europe; the latter are produced by conflicts and wars in the region itself. In the first case the reason and the consequence of the conflict are geographically separated, in the second – they coincide. The memories of the conflict and the trauma aggravate the post conflict settlement. This first comparison is less positive to SEE in relation to Western Europe.

The second difference reverses the situation and is more positive to the Balkans. This dimension is largely ignored or underestimated in the studies. Immigration in the immigration European countries is related to security because of the shortcoming of integration, higher rate of unemployment of migrant workers, the failure of both the multicultural and civic model of inclusion. Immigration in the emigration Balkan countries differs in almost all aspects. It is quite recent phenomenon, which started timidly during the communist regime and began growing after the democratic transition. The first difference, directly connected to its recent character, is the demographic one – the migrant is younger than the average national in the rapidly ageing Balkan populations. The socio-demographic profile is also more positive: while the immigrant in EU is economically and socially weaker than the average citizen, most of immigrants in SEE are economically independent and active, small or medium merchants. The socialist welfare state had collapsed; a new social state is late to emerge. This negative trend for Balkan citizens has positive consequences in terms of migration, because the social security system could not be, and is not, a pull factor – immigrants are attracted by economic niches and the possibility to start business easier than in developed economies.

The last difference is symbolic: millions of emigrants looking for better economic, professional and personal opportunities abroad deterritorialize the region, divest it of significance: the “roads” became more attractive than the “roots”. Immigrants who invest labor, capital, and existential value reterritorialize Southeastern Europe. Returnees who bring social and sometimes financial capital; circular migrants who earn abroad and spend at home also contribute to the positive understanding of migration as a resource, to debalkanizing the Balkans and europeanizing its image.



[1] With the exception of trafficking.

[2] Similar tendencies exist concerning the return of Serbs to Croatia.

[i] Chen L. C. (1995) ‘Human security: Concepts and approaches’ in T.Matsumae and L.C.Chen (eds) Common security in Asia: new concepts of human security, Tokyo: Tokai University Press; King G. and C. Murray (2001-2002) Rethinking human security, Political Science Quaterly, Vol. 115, No 4, pp. 585 – 610.


[ii] UNDP (1994) Human Development Report. New dimensions of human security. http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr1994/



[iii] Sen A. K. (1999) Development as freedom, New York: Knopf.


[iv] UNDP (1994) Human Development Report. New dimensions of human security. http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr1994/


[v] For the connections between, security, solidarity and migration see Anna Krasteva. Social solidarities and immigration integration policies in South-Eastern Europe, in: Ellison, Marion (ed) Reinventing social solidarity across Europe. Polity Press, 2012, 121 – 138.


[vi] Martin Baldwin-Edwards. Balkan migrations and the EU: patterns and trends The Romanian Journal of European Studies, 2005, N 4, pp. 31-44.


[vii] J. Widgren Overview of topical refuges and migration issues in SEE. Presentation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Conference, Struga, Macedonia on 14-15 september 2000. www.icmpd.org, quoted by Martin Baldwin-Edwards. Balkan migrations and the EU: patterns and trends The Romanian Journal of European Studies, 2005, N 4, pp. 31-44.


[viii] Mirjana Bobic. Serbian unfinished business. Refugees and internally displaced persons in Anna Krasteva, Anelia Kasabova, Diana Karabinova(eds) Migrations from and to Southeastern Europe. Ravenna, Longo editore, 2010, pp. 212


[ix] ibid


[x] ibid


[xi]  UNHCR, Regional Operations Profile South-Eastern Europe.

[http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e45b906.html], accessed January 8, 2012.


[xii] Mirjana Bobic. Serbian unfinished business. Refugees and internally displaced persons in Anna Krasteva, Anelia Kasabova, Diana Karabinova(eds) Migrations from and to Southeastern Europe. Ravenna, Longo editore, 2010, pp. 212.


[xiii] Milan Mesic & Dragan Bagic, « Serb returnees in Croatia – the question of return sustainability », In International migration, vol. 48 (2), 2010, pp. 133 – 160


[xiv] Ibid.


[xv]Anna Krasteva.  Post-communist discovery of immigration : the case of Bulgaria, in Berggren E., B. Likic-Brboric, G. Toksoz, N. Trimikliotis (eds) Irregular labor and community: a challenge for Europe. Maastricht: Shaker Publishing, 2007, 104-117


[xvi] Krassimir Kanev. Law and politics on ethnic and religious minorities in Anna Krasteva “Communities and identities in Bulgaria” (Ravenna: Longo editore, 1998), pp.77.


[xvii] Ibid.


[xviii] Martin Baldwin-Edwards. Balkan migrations and the EU: patterns and trends The Romanian Journal of European Studies, 2005, N 4, pp. 35.


[xix] Martin Baldwin-Edwards. Balkan migrations and the EU: patterns and trends The Romanian Journal of European Studies, 2005, N 4, pp. 35.


[xx] St Chalket and Ch. Blair Stop the traffic. People should not be bought and sold. (Oxford: Lion Hudson plc., 2009).


[xxi] Laczko F., A. von Koppenfels, J. Barthel. Trafficking in women from Central and Eastern Europe; a review of statistical data, in F.Laczko, I. Stacher and A.von Koppenfels 9eds) New challenges from migration policy in Central and Eastern Europe. The Hague: IOM, TMC Asser press, pp.153 – 174.


[xxii] Anna Krasteva et al. Bulgaria, in: HERA. Network for combating human trafficking in Central and Southern Europe.London, Esperia Publications LTd, 2008, pp.167 – 229.


[xxiii] Corrado Bonifazi & Marija Mamolo, « Past and current trends of Balkan migrations  Corrado Bonifazi & Marija Mamolo, « Past and current trends of Balkan migrations », Espaces, populations, societies, N 3, 2014, p. 519.


[xxiv] Gallup, impact of migration, Balkan Monitor, Insights and perceptions: voices of the Balkans, June 2009, p. 7. Available online: http://www.balkan-monitor.eu/files/BalkanMonitor-2010_Summary_of_Findings.pdf


[xxv] Drasko Marinkovic, « Bosnia and Herzegovina », In Migration flows in Southeast Europe, a compendium of national perspectives, Belgrade, Group 484, 2007, pp. 43 – 75.


[xxvi] Idem, pp. 65.


[xxvii] Milan Mesic & Dragan Bagic, « Serb returnees in Croatia – the question of return sustainability », In International migration, vol. 48 (2), 2010, pp. 133 – 160.


[xxviii] Milan Mesic & Dragan Bagic, « Serb returnees in Croatia – the question of return sustainability », In International migration, vol. 48 (2), 2010, pp. 133 – 160.


[xxix] B&H, Ministry of security B&H, Migration profile, Sarajevo, March 2012. http://www.msb.gov.ba/dokumenti/strateski/?id=7635


[xxx] Ibid.


[xxxi] B&H, Ministry of security B&H, Migration profile, Sarajevo, March 2010, p. 64.


[xxxii] Calogero Carletto & Benjamin Davis & Marco Stampini & Alberto Zezza, « A country on the move: international migrations in post-communist Albania », International Migration Review, 40 (4), 2006, pp. 767 – 85.


[xxxiii] Julie Vulnetari, « Albanian migration and development: state of the art review », IMISCO working paper, September 2007.


[xxxiv] Julie Vulnetari, « Albanian migration and development: state of the art review », IMISCO working paper, September 2007, p. 76.


[xxxv] JulieVulnetari, « Albanian migration and development: state of the art review », IMISCO working paper, September 2007, p. 76.


[xxxvi] Russel King, « Albania as a labotary for the study of migration and development », Journal of South Europe and the Balkans, 7(2), 2005, pp. 13 – 56.


[xxxvii] Niclolas Van Hear, New Diasporas, London, UCL Press, 1998.


[xxxviii] Julie Vulnetari, « Albanian migration and development: state of the art review », IMISCO working paper, September 2007.


[xxxix] Dana Diminescu, Visibles, mais peu nombreux. Les circulations migratoires roumaines, Paris, MSH, 2004.


[xl] George Borjas, « Economic theory and international migration », International Migration Review, N 3, 1989, pp. 457 – 485.


[xli] Suzana Dobre & Valentin Ariton, « Romania. Migration and development: creating regional labor markets and labor market circulation as response to regional market demands », Paper for Group 484, 2008, p. 188.


[xlii] Idem, pp. 185.


[xliii] cf. Daniela Comini & Franca Faes-Cannito, « Remittances from the EU down for the first time in 2009, flows to non-EU countries more resilient », Eurstat, 2010, N 40.


[xliv] Katia Vasileva, « Population and social conditions », In Eurostat, N 94, 2009, p. 3.


[xlv] According to Eurostat data, EU citizens in Bulgaria and Romania are invisible for the statistics – 0.0% of the population, cf. idem, p. 3


[xlvi] Idem, pp. 5.


[xlvii] Idem.


[xlviii] State policy, of course, takes into account the economic conjuncture: because of the crisis, seasonal jobs for foreigners in construction, hospitality, and tourism are closed at present.


[xlix] Anna Krasteva. Strengthening cross-border cooperation in the Western Balkan regarding migration management – Bulgaria,in Migration flows in South eastern Europe, a compendium of national perspectives. Belgrade, 2007, 163 – 193


[l] Ibid.


[li] Sebastian Lazariou, « Romania », In Migration flows in Southeast Europe, a compendium of national perspectives, Belgrade, Group 484, p. 158.


[lii] S. Dobre & V. Ariton, « Romania. Migration and development: creating regional labor markets and labor market circulation as response to regional market demands », Paper for Group 484, 2008.


[liii] IOM data do not differentiate between labor and non-labor immigration. The higher values in the countries of former Yugoslavia – 5.3% for Serbia (IOM Serbia 2010), 15.9% for Croatia (IOM Croatia 2010) are due to the scale of displacements and other post conflict migrations.


[liv] IOM Romania, 2010, Available online: http://www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/romania


[lv] IOM Bulgaria, 2010, Available online: http://ftp.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/bulgaria


[lvi] Immigration in the Balkans is predominantly an urban phenomenon.


[lvii] Anna Krasteva, « Introduction », In Anna Krasteva, Anelia. Kasabova, Diana. Karabonova (eds), Migrations from and to Southeastern Europe, Ravenna, Longo Editore, 2010, pp. 9 – 14.


[lviii] Mirjana Bobic, « Serbian unfinished business », Refugees and IDPS, In Anna Krasteva & Anelia Kasabova & Diana Karabonova, (eds), Migrations from and to Southeastern Europe, Ravenna, Longo Editore, 2010, pp. 211 – 224.


[lix] Gallup, impact of migration, Balkan Monitor, Insights and perceptions: voices of the Balkans, June 2009, p. 7. Available online: http://www.balkan-monitor.eu/files/BalkanMonitor-2010_Summary_of_Findings.pdf


[lx] Anna, Krasteva, « Introduction », In Anna Krasteva, Anelia Kasabova, Diana Karabonova (eds), Migrations from and to Southeastern Europe, Ravenna, Longo Editore, 2010, pp. 10 – 11.



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