“The future rises in the West”, the departure of the youth is “graying” Albania

Until the day I saw the portrait of her 5-year-old daughter in one of the British medias, I had never taken seriously one of my best friends, who told me that she would try anything to get to the UK.

The 34-year-old, educated and employed until the day she ran away, didn’t think twice when given the chance to illegally cross the English Channel by boat to where she believes she and her little one will have a better future. Her story is more or less the story of thousands of Albanians who have risked every way to set foot on British soil. “40% of illegal immigrants who cross the channel to Great Britain are from Albania, a country at peace and not devastated by wars “, wrote “the Daily Mail”, referring to a report by the intelligence service of the British army. According to the newspaper, “In a period of just 6 weeks in the summer, 1,075 Albanians crossed to Great Britain by boat”.

Albanian immigrants crossing the Strait of La Mans towards Britain

Other prestigious English media, such as ” The Sun ” have also reported on new methods of crossing the border, while the problem of Albanian immigrants who entered the United Kingdom illegally turned into such a paramount issue that the governments were forced  to sign agreements with each other.

A few months ago, the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism would report on this issue, bringing the story of a 19-year-old who had recently completed this trip.

The moment illegal immigrants touch UK soil

But Albania is not only facing departures through illegal immigration. During the last few years, a large number of qualified young people are leaving for Europe as well as the USA and Canada through employment.

Across the Atlantic…

The United States of America remains the promised land for many Albanians, who massively apply for the American lottery. But the history of Albanian immigration to the USA dates back to 1876, while today in the USA there is no exact figure on the number of the Albanian community there. A report from a few years ago puts it between 250,000 and 500,000. Meanwhile, the same report states that the number of Albanian-Americans a few years ago was about 215 thousand, about 87 thousand of the first generation who were born in Albania and about 127 thousand second generation, who were born in the USA.

Pictured/Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Even Canada has a considerable number of Albanian residents. In the census conducted in 2016, about 36 thousand residents declared that they have Albanian origins. About 72% of them live mainly in the province of Ontario. One of these residents is Gentian, a 35-year-old architect. “I migrated on a work visa first, a relative of mine helped me by finding me a job here and it didn’t take me more than 2 months to adapt to my new life,” he says, adding with humor that Ontario’s cold was initially a bit of a problem, but it’s already a cold I can’t live without. Gentian says that there is a large community of Albanians in Ontario and that he hopes that soon he will be able to get his brother and his sister there too. “I really hope that I can get my brother and sister here as well. Here, there is another quality of life. You really work hard, you are taxed, but you have the services, you have security, so you can live peacefully”, he says. And when asked if he thinks about returning to Albania in the future, he says: “I love that country very much, but it will be very difficult to return again. I know what they say, never say never, but it will be very difficult for me to return to live in Albania”.

Doctors and nurses towards Europe

For E.G, a 27-year-old, emigration was a clear objective after finishing nursing school. Working conditions, salaries and the impossibility of career advancement were the reasons. “Working conditions are extremely good. From the day I started working here until now, approximately 4 years, only training for my professional growth provided by the hospital has been over 8″, says the young woman, adding that her economic conditions are very good. ” The salary that I receive is a salary that I never dreamed that I could ever receive in Albania”, she says.

Meanwhile, the lack of white shirts due to the departure of doctors and nurses, unofficially is also accepted by an official of the Ministry of Health. ” We have had and continue to have shortages of various specialties, especially in municipal hospitals. If you go to a municipal hospital today, you can most likely find the cardiologist, resuscitators, etc. absent. There have been investments, it’s not that there haven’t been, but it’s the doctors themselves who, as soon as they finish, ask to leave, since being realistic, the conditions outside are much better than what we can offer, ” he says.

What do the numbers of those who left say?

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) provides accurate immigration figures for Albanians. According to IOM , the total number of immigrants who have arrived in Albania is 49,160, but it is a figure which has suffered a continuous decline since 2015. Meanwhile, when it comes to Albanian citizens who have emigrated, this figure reaches 1,250,451. According to the same source, the share of Albanians who left constitute 43.4% of the Albanian population.

Data according to IOM

According to the Albanian Institute of Statistics, the number of people who have left the country since 2016 has always been increasing, except for 2020 where there was a significant decrease, this is also due to the difficulty of migration procedures, as well as the closing of borders as a consequence of Covid-19. In 2016, 32,533 Albanian citizens left Albania, while this figure increased in 2017, where the number of those who left has reached 39,905. While the highest figure of those leaving the country was recorded in 2019 according to ISTAT with 43,835 people, followed by 23,854 citizens in 2020 and 42,048 in 2021.

Burimi: INSTAT

But in Albania, there is also a trend of leaving the Albanian citizenship, where the figure of leaving the citizenship is greater than that of obtaining it, which in most cases is the second citizenship.

According to INSTAT in 2021, the number of persons who have acquired Albanian citizenship is 711, on the other hand, the number of Albanian citizens who have renounced Albanian citizenship is 724. But as reflected in the table above, the number of persons who have renounced their citizenship as of 2017 was greater than that of those who benefited from it.

On the other hand, according to the data of EUROSTAT , the number of Albanian citizens who received a citizenship of the European Union in 2020 had an increase of 146% greater than that of 2010. ” Until the end of 2020, there were 3.8 million citizens of candidate countries and potential candidates for the EU with a valid residence permit to stay in the EU. This is 6% less than at the end of 2010. About 2/5 are citizens of Turkey, with 41%, 1/5 citizens of Albania with 22%, 11% of citizens of Serbia, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are of the same value. 9% of residence permits are held by the citizens of Kosovo, and 5% and 1% respectively by the citizens of North Macedonia and Montenegro,” Eurostat data states.

Experts speak: Albania is ageing, society is weakening

Finding a reason for the departure of so many citizens from the country is impossible, as there are a number of reasons that lead to the departures. The professor of sociology, Gëzim Tushi, says that there are many reasons, reasons of a geo-political and economic character, that have to do with the differences in the standard of living between Albania and the countries of the European Union.

In the photo/ Young people in Tirana

“They have to do with the fact that Albanians live in Albania and their hopes are European, they have to do with a process of very fast Europeanization of Albanian youth who can no longer afford this Balkan mentality of slow movement at a snail’s pace, but they want to compete with European developments”, says the professor. He adds that the policies related to employment in the treatment of specialists, with certain priority policies that are necessary for economic development, education, science, health, etc., are determining factors that affect the existence of a phenomenon such as the departure of young people and people from Albania.

I think that the time of banal patriotism or the time of such nonsense that we stay here because this is our homeland does not apply to the 21st century. I always say that the homeland is the one where people live better, that’s how they understood this”, says the professor, adding that this is a real thesis that fits the global society and globalization processes today.

Sociologist Gëzim Tushi

And while Albania is turning into a “society with gray hair” as Professor Tushi says, what can be the solution to stop this bleeding of Albanian citizens towards the EU and developed western countries? “We need a complex national strategy, where I believe that both the position and the opposition should think about what is happening to our country, that this issue is not an economic issue, it has to do with the labor market, with the emptying of the labor market or with the vacuum that is being created with certain professions such as medicine, nursing, the academic world, etc.”, concludes Gëzim Tushi.

On one hand, the weak economy is a driving factor, and on the other hand, developed countries are the attractive factor. Most studies show that emigration is mainly motivated by economic factors“, says sociologist Marsida Simo. According to her, given that Albania is a developing country, the alternatives to choose, increase and promote employment are under development. “At this point, young people have received the message that they are not offered the opportunities they are looking for. The decision to emigrate is often linked to political stability, which does not give priority to education as much as it is necessary,” she says. For the sociologist Simo, emigration can be reduced by promoting education, especially professional education, promoting employment opportunities, promoting self-employment, improving health care and infrastructure, etc.

Sociologist Marsida Simo

Economic expert Zef Preçi describes the departure of young people as well as specialized people as a complex problem. “The policies followed by the government have essentially damaged competition. This means less and less both in the procurement process and in the recruitment process of public servants, and generally in the public sector, supervisors and militants constantly dominate. There is little or no room for qualified people, idealistic people, people, citizens who hope and dream of a future within the country”, he argues.

The expert, Zef Preçi

According to him, overcoming this situation should be mainly related to the improvement of the business climate, the promotion of political debate and, above all, the encouragement of free, private initiative. ” Without liberating the business climate from the shackles of state intervention from the control of oligarchs, from the influence of lobbyists on the control of natural resources and budget funds, it is difficult to expect a climate that has fallen that absorbs free and qualified labor,” he concludes.

On the other hand, the lecturer Rezart Prifti speaks with numbers about the departure of Albanians. ” In a recent study that was included, it turns out that 60% of those with higher education in the last 10 years have left Albania, so we have lost 2/3 of all those who create added value in the processes economic and social of this country”, he says adding that in the macro this explains the catastrophe of the next 10 years. “In micro, in your daily life and mine, this explains the weakness that has gripped Albanian society. In every little aspect,” he says.

professor Rezar Prifti

But the situation does not seem at all optimistic for the academic staff either, where according to the Priest, 54% of the academic staff have left, that is, of the academic employees in pedagogical functions in universities. “The universities of Korça, Gjirokastra and Shkodra have been completely dismantled. There is a mass exodus from the University of Tirana, but they replace them quickly without criteria and that’s why they don’t stand out”, he says, adding that the reasons they leave are very obvious. “The institution of education is missing here, the meritocracy that comes as a consequence of the lack of education is missing, that those people who make the meritocratic system when they have no work culture will hire someone who is not for work because he does not know how to they get the job done,” he concludes.

professor Erjon Muça

The lack of meritocracy, working conditions, lack of law and order, services, are reasons given by the pastor Erjon Muça. But the question of whether Albanians who are well educated and have chosen to leave for all the above-mentioned reasons will return to their homeland, he finds very difficult.

I don’t believe in the return of intellectuals, especially those who have had a status and a profession in Albania and have accumulated an important experience of several years in their profession so that at a certain moment they return. Even if they return, their return will be temporary, as part of some international program and as temporary workers, with one- or two-year contracts”, says Professor Muca who says he sees a high margin of Albanians educated abroad, but facing disappointment here may force them to leave Albania again.