Croatian Brain Drain Second Only to Maltese Demographic Crisis

Lauren Simmonds

The Croatian brain drain is second only to the Maltese demographic crisis, recording the second largest brain drain in the European Union. The entire region and the countries of the former Yugoslavia are massively affected by the departure of the population, but where does Croatia stand in comparison to other ex-YU countries?

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 13th of January, 2020, In 2019 alone, the most people to have ever departed to date left neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, about 60,000 citizens, while in 2018, about 40,000 left that country.

The departure of residents, especially young people, from the Balkan countries to the economically highly developed countries of Western Europe is one of the biggest problems facing all the countries in Croatia’s immediate region in recent years, writes Anadolija. Although accurate official data from state institutions on this crucial social issue is still lacking, it has long since become clear that this is a worrying demographic trend and that the Croatian brain drain is reaching alarming depths.

According to unofficial data and estimates of certain Croatian and international organisations and associations, almost every country in the Balkans is annually left without a population the size of a smaller city. There has been a steady increase in departures from Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last six years. Since 2013, more specifically since the Bosnia and Herzegovina Sustainable Return Union has been keeping actual records, until the end of last year, more than 200,000 people have abandoned that country.

This data shows that in the past two years, approximately 50,000 persons emigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina and headed abroad. Serbia is facing a similar demographic problem, if not a much more difficult one, which, according to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has seen around 654,000 people leave, most of them between the ages of 15 and 24, from the beginning of this century to the end of 2018. Eurostat figures also show that 51,000 people left Serbia to go to the EU in 2018.

The Croatian brain drain isn’t something new, but it has become much worse despite the fact that the country has been facing the problem of population exodus for years, which is especially pronounced in its smaller communities, and it is particularly worrying that Croatia is struggling to retain its population even large cities. According to unofficial data, around 190,000 people have left Croatia in the last five years alone.

Examples are municipalities such as Civljan and Ervenik in the Šibenik-Knin County, which lost 39.3% or 37.8% of the population in five years, which means that every third inhabitant left the area in five years. A report by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) also showed that 39,515 people emigrated from Croatia in 2018 alone, which is the second largest number after 2017, where a record 47,352 people emigrated.

The results of a World Bank report “Migration and brain drain in Europe and Central Asia” from last year showed that after Malta, the highest rate of emigration in the European Union is Croatia, with 21.9 percent of the population having left, which means that more than a fifth of its former population now lives abroad. According to Eurostat, around 62,000 people left Albania to go the the EU in 2018 alone. According to the latest World Bank report on migration, about 40 percent of the population has left that country so far.

A dramatic trend of emigration has been present in Northern Macedonia for years, from which, according to the latest Eurostat data, 24,300 people left in 2018 alone, while World Bank data shows that over 25 percent of the population, or a quarter of Macedonians, now reside outside of this non-EU Balkan country. According to the latest Eurostat data, 34,500 people emigrated from the territory of Kosovo in 2018 and about 3,000 from Montenegro, both of which are not EU member states.

If just Eurostat’s 2018 data and other unofficial data is taken into account alone, it can be concluded that over the past few years, an average of 200,000 people, or even more than this number, have left the Balkan countries annually.

For more on the Croatian brain drain, keep up to date with our dedicated lifestyle page.


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