Germany desperately needs medical professionals, and many in the Western Balkans are just as keen on a way out of their home countries. Highly skilled migrants are rushing westwards in a seemingly unstoppable wave.
Buses full of migrants leave North Macedonia's town of Tetovo almost every night. They are heading to Italy, Germany, Switzerland — all prime destinations for aspiring foreign workers.
Hundreds of thousands of them have already left the small Balkan state. One of them is a 38-year-old doctor, Boban Gjakov, who traded North Macedonia for Slovenia in 2011. He says that, in his home country, you need good political connections to find a decent job.
"It's a sad and miserable feeling when you are a doctor of medicine, and the state throws you into the water like garbage," says Gjakov, a gynecology and obstetrics specialist. He adds that his decision to leave Skopje was mostly motivated by financial issues.
"I paid for my entire education, and then the starting salary in Macedonian hospitals was lower than the salary I received while working as a waiter," Gjakov says.
Kosovars go to Italy
Western Europe needs highly skilled migrants, particularly doctors and other healthcare workers. While they are eagerly awaited in rich EU states with aging populations, young professionals are also driven from their homes by dismal conditions in North Macedonia and the entire Balkan region.
In their home countries, Western Balkans natives face job stagnation, social insecurity, financial dependency, a system of political patronage, sub-par healthcare systems, as well as discrimination towards vulnerable groups, including women and LGBT people. These are the key reasons that push them to emigrate, says Zhivka Deleva, an independent researcher at Berlin's Interkulturanstalten Westend.
The consequences are glaringly obvious in North Macedonia — according to World Bank statistics, almost half a million Macedonians already live abroad. This equates to nearly one quarter of the country's remaining population.
The situation is just as grim in neighboring Kosovo. According to the EU's Eurostat statistics agency, EU member states issued some 245,000 work residence permits to Kosovo citizens between 2008 and 2018. Almost half of these permits were issued by Italian authorities, although a large number of Kosovars also migrate to Germany.
Djakovo reunion in Detmold
Doctor Vigan Roka left Kosovo in 2013 to pursue his specialization in ophthalmology. He says the conditions for medical specialists were simply much better in Germany.
"My dream to become an eye surgeon was impossible in Kosovo, so I had to leave, heartbroken but very motivated," he said.