Regional Trends

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While 63 per cent of migration is intra-regional, SEEECA also receives regular and irregular migrants from other parts of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South and South-East Asia.

The countries of the Western Balkan region experienced a drastic change in migratory patterns and daily life when the flow of extra-regional migrants along the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan route grew from a trickle in 2011 to become one of the most crowded migration routes into the European Union. This was mainly due to the war in Syria, and the sharp increase in numbers of migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees transiting through states had the largest effect in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in Serbia.

Mixed-migration flows reduced significantly after major policy shifts in 2016 closed the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkans route. However, the route closure has already led to an increase in irregular migration, and the situation remains volatile. The latest data show that over 75,000 migrants are currently stranded in the Western Balkans and Greece.

Outward migration from the region, especially from the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, is directed primarily towards the European Union (EU). This is facilitated by on-going approximation and accession processes between these countries and the EU. Many of the region’s migrants originate from within SEEECA itself, making intra-regional migration a significant phenomenon. Freedom of movement within the region is high, and most States enjoy visa-free regimes with one another.

Russia is the top destination country in the region, as well as the third top destination country globally, with a migrant population estimated at 11 million. Following the global economic downturn and sharp devaluation of the Russian ruble in 2014, remittance-dependent countries in the region saw household wealth decrease as remittance values plummeted. Economic stagnation and instability, in combination with harsher legislation on labour migration known as the Russian “re-entry ban” has significantly slowed labour migration. By January 2016, some two million migrants from Central Asian States alone received short and long-term bans. This has spurred massive return migration to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, straining already sluggish local job markets. Consequently, Kazakhstan has emerged as an alternate destination for migrant workers, although economic shocks in the oil industry have severely affected growth. See: Effects of regional policy on migrants and their families in Central Asia

For a comprehensive regional profile of migration in the SEEECA region, see the following publications: