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Regional conference on “Migration, Development and Diaspora in the Western Balkans”

27 October 2021

Three decades since the start of post-socialism period in the Western Balkans, international migration remains one of the most discussed issues in the region due to its size, intensity, socio-economic consequences, and its evolving nature.

The last decade has been characterized by an intensification of the migratory processes, where the most occurring trends continues to be: emigration, return and transit migration. From these three categories, emigration remains the dominant one.

The Regional Migration Conference 2021, held today in Tirana takes places in a unique and dramatic year. The systemic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic on migration and mobility worldwide as well as a renewed focus on security issues absorbed the attention and energies of policy-makers. Meanwhile regional cooperation became harder than ever on such matters.

Brain drain, remittances, return migrants, long-term policy on migration are all vital topics for the future of our area and this is why, the Western Balkans Fund, together with Central European Initiative and the Center for Economic and Social Studies joined forces to organize this international important conference.

The papers present during the next two days will allow the policymakers to make better informed decisions, which will impact our common future.

“We are preparing to launch our new call for proposals, which will be the largest to date, and will foster new partnerships and links to people. We have already enabled more than 3 thousand partnerships and more than 10 thousand links between common people, supporting joint cross-border projects”, said Gjergj Murra, Executive Director of the Western Balkans Fund in his opening remarks.

“The Western Balkans Fund expands the horizon and enlarges the opportunities from one Contracting Party to six. Expands the market opportunities from a market of a few million people or even less to a common area of almost 20 million. And in doing so, we give our small contribution, to make our common home a better home for everybody”.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success”, underlined Murra.

Full transcript of ED. Gjergj Murra speech (as prepared for delivery)

Dear Ugo

Dear Members of the Contracting Parties

Honorable Ambassadors and representatives of the diplomatic corps.

Since our establishment more than four years ago, the Western Balkans Fund has constantly addressed the topic of migration, an opportunity and simultaneously a threat for our region.

We have funded many projects, academic papers, important conferences, or publications that have directly or indirectly addressed this phenomenon.

This is the second time we team-up with the Center for Economic and Social Studies to organize an international migration conference.

But, I am pleased to notice that this is the most prestigious conference to date, not only because of the important names attending but also because of the quality of papers presented.

Many of us turned to reading during the lock-down, and I am not an exception.

One of the books that impressed me more was a present from a Bosnian friend, “Where you come from,” by Sasa Stanisic, who won the German Book Prize in 2019.

“Our origins,” the book says, “are the bitter-sweet coincidences that carried us here or there.”

And as somebody who grew up in communism and experienced the nineties’ conflicts first-hand, this is a stark reminder of how random categories like “homeland” or “nationality” can be.

It also shows how migration can change our perspectives. How it connects countries and people. How it broadens horizons and creates new opportunities – despite all of the challenges.

So, right from the outset, I would like to stress one thing: The goal of this conference is not to stop migration.

In the 30 years since the fall of the iron curtain, all those who tried to stop it have failed, like the ones before them, because migration is a centuries-old occurrence in our lands.

Mobility is part of the European DNA. And it prepares young people for a life in a globalized, interconnected world.

At the same time, ladies and gentlemen, we cannot close our eyes to the problems that a continuous “brain drain” is causing in the Western Balkans.

The numbers are staggering. According to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in research funded by the British Government, the Western Balkans Six area loses up to 2.46 billion Euros per year on educational costs to educate people who leave for better opportunities after graduation.

This is an enormous sum for our Contracting Parties.

And brain drain is only one of the challenges posed by migration.

It is critical for our Parties to have comprehensive studies in return migration, asylum-seekers, migration as an important economic resource, reintegration mechanism, and many more.

The papers presented in this conference fill a critical knowledge gap and offer the necessary data-based evidence to policy makers and donors, including other strategic stakeholders, on impact and migration trends.

It also provides policymakers with tools to develop policies and strategies for addressing certain topics that impact societal wellbeing.

To that extent, Western Balkans Fund, in cooperation with the International Visegrad Fund, is currently supporting forming a regional think tank network, a large brain “database” of experts that will provide our institutions and donors with well-informed data and solutions for many challenging issues.

The think tank network, just like this conference, will set mechanisms that will contribute to the ongoing trust-building processes between institutions and the civil society community in the region.

Additionally, we are preparing to launch our new call for proposals, which will be the largest to date, and will foster new partnerships and links to people.

We have already enabled more than 3 thousand partnerships and more than 10 thousand links between common people, supporting joint cross-border projects.

We now have an orchestra made by the best talents of the region. We have a marathon made in Western Balkans Fund. We have a regional theatre troop and many more that help our area become more attractive for our children.

For sure, the small projects we support will not solve the migration question, but cooperation can and will help to improve many of our current challenges.

Because many migrants leave for better work opportunities, better education, or healthcare, but bottom line, a lot of them leave because our countries are small.

The Western Balkans Fund expands the horizon and enlarges the opportunities from one Contracting Party to six. Expands the market opportunities from a market of a few million people or even less to a common area of almost 20 million.

And in doing so, we give our small contribution, to make our common home a better home for everybody.

Coming together is a beginning.

Keeping together is progress.

Working together is a success.

Thank you for your attention