Friday, 20 February 2015 00:00

"Macedonian" Asylum Seekers - Threat or Opportunity for the European Countries

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The visa liberalization for Macedonia in 2009 not only brought wide benefits but also negative criticism for the country and its citizens. On the one hand, one of the benefits is that Macedonian citizens could freely travel to EU. While, on the other hand – critics, mainly EU member states, saw an increased inflow of asylum seekers from Macedonia. Almost three years after the visa liberalization, Macedonia is facing severe criticism by international NGOs for "controlling" Roma to leave the country, as well as returning to the visa regime. The majoritarian Macedonians and the Europeans often put the blame on Roma for the negative image in front of EU, without seeing the roots of the causes for asylum as well as the benefits of integration that may arise, in the long run.

In this regard, this analysis aims to present the reasons for asylum from an economic perspective, as well as to analyze the cost and benefits of those European countries that are the recipients of the asylum seekers. In addition, this analysis interprets the “asylum issue” beyond the existing framework and provides arguments for promoting Western countries investment in the Balkans, in order not to repeat the same scenario as in the case of Bulgaria and Romania EU membership, which produced massive migration in Central-Western European states.

 Reasons for Asylum 

The integration into a global market, besides the economic benefits, widens the gap between the rich and the poor countries in the EU. The enlargement process followed with the accession of the new members into the Schengen area has led many people to migrate from the periphery to Western Europe. In the same way, along with the visa liberalization for the Western Balkans, citizens took the opportunity to travel, but also to search for a brighter future abroad.

The reasons for seeking asylum, can be grouped into two types of factors: those pushing (push factors) and motivating (pull factors) people to leave the country. When it comes to the Roma community, both types of factors act correspondingly.

                      Source: European Asylum Support Office

As it can be noticed from the figure, the factors have mostly a socio - economic character. As far as the Roma – Non-Roma situation is concerned the below indicators for education, unemployment, and health present a strong argument for the push and pull factor determining Roma asylum seeking:

Figure 1:  Socio-economic indicators for Roma

               Source: Indicators for Macedonia, UNDP, Roma Regional Survey 2011

In this context, the hypothesis is that people with bad standards of living, poor housing conditions, or low wages have a tendency to seek new opportunities and solutions, including leaving their home country. In this regard, the UNDP survey from 2011, confirms this hypothesis and suggests that it is quite logical that Roma seek their opportunities abroad through different means - asylum, immigration, or even marriage.

Moreover, in situations where a large part of the population is facing such conditions and the implementation of Roma specific policies is stagnating, the decision of the Roma to seek asylum in order to ensure a better future is logical and rational. This thesis applies not only for Roma, but for each and every individual and community that face a similar situation in the society.

In this regards, the question of who takes the responsibility for the current situation remains: the state, the EU, or Roma. The state because of its focus on the other priorities (Skopje 2014, EU integration) and therefore neglects the National Strategy for Roma and other as such policies? The EU, who did not learn the lessons from the past (Romania and Bulgaria) and continues to tolerate violations of its own laws by the candidate countries? The Roma community, because of the believes in the myth that the EU grants asylum on the basis of poverty? Particular groups that have profitable interests misinforming and manipulating the poor or Roma politicians that do not protect the interests of their electorate? It is obvious that all the stakeholders bear the burden, but the consequences are manifested differently:

  • Increase in the costs of European countries due to the high number of asylum seekers (at the global level)
  • The state, which faces with the return of the visas and, therefore, practice selective measures against its citizens
  • Roma, which are put in a "home iron cage" -by limiting their right to free movement

The costs of the recipient countries of asylum seekers

Due to the lack of a common EU asylum policy, members states are encountering an unequal distribution of asylum seekers. As such, some member states that have longer procedures for processing the asylum applications; provide "generous" material support and have higher chances of employment, are the target countries of asylum seekers. For example, the primary "target" of the asylum seekers are countries such as Germany, Belgium, and Sweden, with a 75% of the total number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans.[1]

                                Source: European Stability Initiative

Along with this, the costs related to asylum vary considerably within the EU member states (e.g. the administrative expenses associated with processing the application for asylum and the explicit cost of living: family allowance, food, accommodation, leaving the state). By law, countries provide asylum seekers a place to live in collective centers, provide medical care, food and a monthly allowance.

Table 2 summarizes the total costs and share (%) of the recipient countries as an expenditure item in the budget in the ten countries in the EU, where 90% of the Macedonian citizens have asked asylum in 2012. As it can be seen from the table, the annual costs of these ten countries in Europe are estimated at 24 million euros. Although, at first glance it might seem an enormous amount is less than 0.1% of their budgets.


The conclusion one can derive from the above table is that the Macedonian asylum seekers do not represent a real threat from the financial aspect. What does this mean?

This situation suggests that in fact the ideal for homogenization of the population continues to function as a basic demographic policy in the European countries. The hidden veil of negative attitudes of the people in Europe presents the mental structure and xenophobic views prevailing in Europe, especially after the economic crisis. In this regard, according to the Transatlantic Trends research, 52% of people in Europe see immigration as a problem rather than an opportunity, with the highest pessimism in Britain in 2011.[2]

Taking into consideration the analysis above, the recipient countries of asylum seekers face three main options:

  • Return of the asylum seekers

It is the easiest option to implement because it is technically feasible and politically acceptable as it is in the interest of the country. This option complies with the existing policy, which applies the mixture of forced and restrictive measures to the entire Roma community. Changes such as reducing the duration of the processing of applications, not accepting the applications for asylum in the Western Balkans are intended to decrease the flow of asylum seekers. This Policy of the EU member states demonstrates that they are not ready to face the challenges of free movement of people, capital, ideas, and money. The pressure exercised by European countries on Macedonia indicates that "Macedonian authorities are forced" to practice selective policy and close the borders for Roma.

Nonetheless, such a policy is not sustainable in the long run. Firstly, the number of discriminatory cases against the State increased and there are already two cases from the court proving that the borders control discriminate Roma. Secondly, Roma became much more aware about this issue due to the increased media coverage and reactions from NGOs. Thirdly, once Macedonia starts the negotiations with EU and become member, this issue will remain and might manifest in large scale migration.

  • Restructuring the production costs into productive investment

Much more efficient policy and greater benefits, the countries of Europe would have if the same money spent on asylum seekers were invested in Macedonia due to the impact that these funds might have. Investments in human capital, particularly in support for opening small businesses and education will contribute to the financial security of people, and it will also reduce the number of asylum applications. A second possibility is to provide conditional cash transfers, which will support education and job training to the "critical group” with an aim of increasing their employability.

Whatever option from this category is implemented, it can significantly contribute to improve the living conditions. The amount of 24 million euros spent on all asylum seekers should not be neglected, which combined with state resources and policies can increase access to all public goods and services (education, health, employment, and housing).

This policy option in a longer period is feasible, but requires serious actions in terms of operationalization of such pool of money; good governance and institutions; as well as proper distribution based on incentive structure. Compared with the previous policy option, this solution is more sustainable because provides acceptable solutions for the all stakeholders. In addition, it provides incentives for the people not to leave their country and sense of state responsibility towards its citizens.  

  • Integration of the asylum seekers

The last option refers to “opening the doors” of the EU countries and integrating the asylum seekers in the respective state. Given the trend of aging population in Europe, the countries in the next 10 to 30 years, will face a significant deficit in the labor force. The integration of the people who are seeking asylum in EU countries, primarily means granting them with the right to work in order not to be seen as a burden of the state. This option, in the long run, can contribute for the benefit of all stakeholders and there are successful examples in Canada, Australia, and USA.

The integration of the asylum seekers would provide several advantages for the all stakeholders such as:

  • Benefits for the recipient country of the asylum seekers due to the “right to work”

- Increase in the tax revenues of the country

- Increasing the labor supply in the country

- Diversification of the society and increase in the social harmony in the country through mutual support and understanding of the domestic population, which will see that the asylum seekers as a contributors  in the state

  • For the domestic state of the asylum seekers

The benefits of the country refer to an increase in remittances that improve the balance of payments of the country and increase in the foreign exchange reserves. Also, many families that are successfully integrated, regularly sent money back to their families, which indirectly contribute to increased consumption and demand of domestic products.

  • For the asylum seekers

The integration of asylum seekers can be analyzed from two aspects: individual and group perspective. From an individual standpoint, the integration of a family will mean financial security and better opportunity for a decent life. Certainly, integration will mean better access to the public goods - healthcare, employment, education. In addition, it will motivate and encourage them to participate in public life and make their own decisions about their future. From a group perspective, at the level of the whole economy the integration of asylum seekers would mean more competition in the job market and an increase in labor supply of skilled/ or unskilled people.

Even though this option sounds cost effective, since the benefits are large, it might have low public acceptance. The economic crisis changed the attitudes of the people, and some statistics show that people at the Western countries strongly oppose to have Roma neighbor. This demonstrate that the process of building common European Identity and values are far behind the projections that EU has.



The analysis of the costs of the asylum seekers from Macedonia demonstrate that the costs have a minor share in the total expenses in the budgets of the European Union. The main obstacle and threat related to the "asylum policy" is actually the signals sent to the other people that are potential asylum seekers or plan to leave the country through regular procedures for employment.

In order to “control the potential inflow of new asylum application“, EU brakes its own rules and requires from the candidate countries to take strict measures for controlling Roma at the state borders. Very often, discriminatory and selective practices are made by the national authorities, which exceed their official authority and take actions that are repressive towards the Roma.

Instead Macedonia and the EU to look for an exit strategy for the integration of asylum seekers into the existing systems and take concrete steps for social inclusion, they unfortunately opt for a strategy of controlling the free movement of Roma. In many countries, such as Australia, US, Canada, the state tries to include the asylum seekers in the labor market, which in long run brings much more benefits, than the existing cost that the state is producing through the current measures and procedures. Whether the implementation of the EU asylum policy follows the rule "the strong do what they want, while the weak accept what they must" remains to be seen. The dream of European Union, where all citizens are free to move, where capital can freely move from one country to another, where ideas circulate and contribute to the progress and development is too far for a particular group of citizens. The European cultural values are far away from the ​​ nationalistic policies taken by some countries, especially during the economic crisis.

It remains only the option of mass reaction of the current injustice towards Roma. Who knows, maybe Roma will start to block the border in the country so that EU and Macedonia begin to work on the business-investment strategies and implementing policies for Roma.


[1] 1. # of application from Macedonia: Data are taken from UNHCR, Trend of asylum seekers, 2012 available at

     2.Explicit cost per asylum seekers: Data are taken from the calculation of the basic costs – European comparison available at

     3.Yearly cost – The cost are derived by multiplying the number of weeks and explicit cost per asylum seekers

     4.% of the total expenditure – the yearly cost as a share of the total expenditure from the budget of the selected countries

[2] Trans-Atlantic Report: Immigration in 2011, Marshal Fund, USA available at

[1] Statistical update: asylum seekers from the Western Balkan 2013, available at

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