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  • Mainstreaming Migration Into National Development Strategies Country Overview

Country Overview


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Migration processes taking place in Serbia are complex in nature and have been changing during the course of time. For decades the country has been experiencing population outflows, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. Emigration waves from Serbia can be divided into four main periods, in which dominance of economic and political reasons for leaving the country alternated: 1) economic emigration from the late 19th century until World War II, mostly to America, 2) war and post-war political emigration of the 40s and 50s of the 20th century, mostly to oversees countries, 3) economic emigration in the period from 1960 to 1980, when generally the low skilled workers were leaving the country and going to developed countries of Europe, and 4) political-economic emigration of the nineties of the 20th century, characterized by the departure of a large number of highly qualified people, the so-called brain drain phenomenon. (IOM, 2008).

On the other hand, Serbia experienced unprecedented inflows of forced migrants in the 1990s following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, when hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons came to Serbia. There were more than half a million-registered refugees in 1996, mostly from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. An additional influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) came to Serbia in 1999 from Kosovo before the refugee chapter was closed. So far, Serbia still hosts about 38,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia as well as 204,000 IDPs from Kosovo.

Although voluntary return for refugees and IDPs was advocated as the best solution, today approximately 231 refugees and 682 IDPs are still accommodated in 17 collective centres and belong to the most vulnerable category of migrants. 

Apart from the refugee and IDP issues, Serbia also faces problems in the field of reintegration of returnees under the readmission agreements. While the exact number of returnees to Serbia over the past years remains unknown and the estimates of future returns may be unreliable, in 2014, some 5.390 Serbian nationals were readmitted. 

In recent years and during 2015 in particular, migrants from various countries including Central Asia, Middle East and Northern and Eastern Africa have been increasingly trying to access EU countries through the Western Balkan migration route. In Serbia, the mass flow has reached peak in the last quarter of 2015 with an average of 5,000 migrants per day. Although as of January 2016, the flow has been reduced due to the policy decisions by some of the countries along the route to limit the entry to their territories to person from certain nationalities only, the route has been closed in March 2016 resulting in scarce numbers of migrants entering Serbia in an irregular manner. Although a transit country, Serbia has been putting enormous efforts to ensure humane and adequate response to the needs of migrants.

As Serbia moves closer towards EU membership, it remains primarily emigration country but is also gradually turning into a transit country, for migrants who use its territory as a temporary transit point on the way to more developed European countries and also increasingly as a destination country for foreigners who arrive with the intention to stay for employment, family, asylum and other reasons. Furthermore, Serbian government is becoming increasingly aware not only of the obligations that EU negotiations are putting forward, but also of the benefits that can be created through effective involvement of migrant population in development processes and fostering of economic and community development in areas where there is a high level of emigration or immigration. Serbia has continued aligning its legislation to the requirements of the EU legislation in many fields.

National Focal Points