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IMMIGRATION

Migrant crisis to hijack western Balkans summit

Europe's raging migrant crisis is set to hijack a summit in Vienna of leaders from the western Balkans region on Thursday that will also be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Migrant crisis to hijack western Balkans summit
Ministers at last year's conference. Photo: Tanja Fajon

When it was announced a year ago, the gathering of a slew of heads of government and ministers as well as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was meant to be about regional cooperation and prospects for joining the EU.

But the “western Balkans route” has now become one of the main ways into the European Union for the several hundreds of thousands of migrants entering the bloc this year in Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Some 102,000 migrants entered the EU via Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro or Kosovo between January and July this year, versus just 8,000 for the same period in 2014, according to EU border agency Frontex.

Last week Macedonia declared a state of emergency after being overwhelmed by the volume of refugees entering from Greece, closing the border for three days as police used stun grenades to stop people breaking through.

At least 7,000 people have since made it to Serbia, hoping to follow the roughly 100,000 others who have crossed over into EU member Hungary this year before a razor-wire barrier is completed by August 31.

Summit host Austria, which borders Hungary and fellow “front line” state Italy, will present at the conference a five-point plan.

It involves doing more to tackle people-trafficking gangs, a “fairer” distribution of refugees around the EU, greater security cooperation, helping the countries where the migrants come from and a “pan-European asylum strategy”.

“It's a humanitarian disaster, a disaster for the European Union as a whole, and there is a pressing need for us to focus on the situation in the western Balkans,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Monday.

“We have to find a new strategy to support Greece and the western Balkan countries,” Kurz said on a visit to see the crisis in Macedonia for himself.

'Disastrous' economic situation

But it's not just about people fleeing violence in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The impoverished countries in the western Balkans are themselves the source of huge numbers of migrants.

Of the 44,000 irregular migrants detected crossing between western Balkan countries and between these countries and the EU in the first quarter of 2015, 27,000 were nationals of the region, according to Frontex.

According to Dusan Reljic at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), this is because the economic situation there is “disastrous”, with growth non-existent, unemployment sky high and investment feeble.

“In Macedonia the average monthly salary is €350 ($410), less than in China,” the Balkans expert told AFP. “Something like half of the people applying for asylum in Germany are from the western Balkans.”

The credibility of prospects of these countries joining the EU “has largely evaporated, and the poorest of the poor have abandoned hopes of improvement and ever achieving a life with dignity.”

By Simon Sturdee/AFP

IMMIGRATION

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Austria's recent Migration & Integration report paints a detailed picture of who are the immigrants in the country, where they come from, the languages they speak at home and more.

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

More than a quarter of Austria’s population has a “migration background”, which, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria, means that they have parents who both were born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth.

Though migration is a controversial topic for some, Statistik Austria made it clear that if not for it, the country would simply stop growing.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Not every person with a migration background is considered a foreigner, though. Many of them have parents who were born abroad but naturalised Austrians before having children, or they themselves became Austrian citizens later on.

This is why despite 25.4 percent of the population having a “migration background”, the number of people with foreign nationalities is slightly lower at 17.7 percent.

So, who are these people? 

German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people). But much had changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

They are helping Austria get younger

In Austria, most people without a migration background (36.2 percent) are between 40 to 64 years old. The share is also quite large among those with 65 or more years, reaching 21.8 percent.

When it comes to people with a migration background, most are between 40 to 64 years old (34.4 percent), followed closely by the 20 to 39-year-olds (33.5 percent), and then the children and adolescents until 19 years of age (22 percent). Only 10.2 percent of the people with a migration background are older than 65.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Regarding nationalities, Austrians have an average age of 44.8, followed by Germans, who average 41.1. The youngest populations are the Afghani living in Austria (24.9 years old on average) and the Syrians (26.3).

Immigration helps keep the Austrian population younger. (Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash)

Language and education

People with a migration background living in Austria have a different educational profile than the population without a migration background, according to the Statistik Austria data.

They are more often represented in the lowest and highest educational segments and less often in the middle-skilled segment than the population without a migration background.

However, the educational level of immigrants is improving over time, on the one hand, due to increasing internal migration, also of higher educated people within the EU. On the other hand, as a result of the selective immigration policy toward third-country nationals by the Red-White-Red Card, the institution said.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

In 2021, 19.4 percent of the Austrian population had higher education, such as a university degree, and 10.9 percent had only mandatory primary schooling. Regarding foreigners, 29 percent had university-level education and 25.1 percent had completed only their primary school years.

When it comes to children and the language they speak, German was the first language of about 72 percent of the four and 5-year-old children in elementary educational institutions in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austria ranked world’s ‘second least friendly country’

With just under six percent each, Turkish and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BKS) were the most common non-German first languages. Around two percent each spoke Romanian, Arabic or Albanian, followed by Hungarian (one percent).

Less than one percent each for Persian, Polish, Slovakian, English, Russian and Kurdish, respectively, as the first languages. Languages other than those mentioned were spoken by slightly more than five percent.

And who is naturalising Austrian?

Not all foreigners become Austrian, even if they have been in the country for decades. One of the reasons is that the process is expensive, but also because it requires applicants to give up their previous citizenship – something many are unwilling to do.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

According to the report, in 2021, most foreign citizens who naturalised Austrian were from Turkey originally (1,100), followed by Bosnia (921), Serbia (782), Afghanistan (545), and Syria (543).

More than one-third of the people naturalising Austrian last year were already born in Austria, and most of the naturalisations were of young people between 20 and 40 years old.

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