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A new European statistical report saying that more than ten per cent of FYR Macedonians have left their country in little more than a decade has stirred up a debate on emigration.
In a new report on migration, the European statistics agency EUROSTAT said that from 1998 to 2011, some 230,000 people left FYR Macedonia to live abroad legally.
The figure represents more than ten percent of the countrys population of 2.1 million.
Some 170,000 of these people were granted temporary stays in European Union countries, mostly in Italy, Germany Austria and Slovenia, while the report also shows an increasing number of foreign passports being issued to FYR Macedonians in the last several years.
But EUROSTAT said that the figures are not final and could be much higher, because they do not include those Macedonians who have left the country and are living abroad without official permission.
Most agree that the main driving forces behind the trend are poverty, in a country with average monthly salary of some 300 euro, and high unemployment, at almost 30 per cent.
This government is putting in maximum effort to improve conditions in order to keep young people in particular in the country, said government spokesperson Aleksandar Gjorgiev, reacting to the reports findings by blaming globalisation for increasing emigration in recent years.
The findings came as a shock to many in FYR Macedonia because the country has little of its own comprehensive data on emigration apart from educated estimates.
(FYR) Macedonian labour and social policy minister Spiro Ristovski reacted to the report by saying that increased emigration to wealthier EU countries and elsewhere was a trend in most eastern European and Balkan countries.
But this should not be a consolation for us, Ristovski said, adding that the government must work to boost the economy and employment opportunities.
But demographic expert Donco Gerasimov said the country hardly has any relevant data on which to base its development strategy.
He blamed the situation on poor cooperation between institutions such as the state statistics office, the police, foreign ministry and the countrys employment agency.
You cannot implement development strategies without an exact and comprehensive demographic picture including ethnicity, education, employment and so on, Gerasimov told the daily Utrinski Vesnik.
FYR Macedonias last population census was completed in 2002.
A later attempt to carry out a nationwide head-count in 2011 ended in a fiasco after the ethnically-split commission in charge collectively resigned.
Both ethnic FYR Macedonians and Albanians blamed each other for attempting to rig the outcome, and as a result, parliament postponed the census indefinitely.
Sinisa Jakov Marusic, BIRN, Skopje
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