Youth in Albania: Trapped in their Own Homeland

Jona Koprencka




Jona Koprencka

Jona Koprencka 200x250

Nowadays, young people want to leave their country as soon as possible. They no longer feel represented and have lost their sense of belonging.

Young people are said to be the future of a nation. We have seen many cases where young people have worked hard building their country, they have brought innovation and overthrown totalitarian regimes. This was also the case in Albania in the 1990s, when students tore down the dictator's bust and brought democracy to the country. Nowadays, young people want to leave their country as soon as possible. They no longer feel represented and have lost their sense of belonging.

Reasons for emigration

The reasons why an individual seeks to emigrate/leave his/her country are numerous. Starting from economic, social, political, educational reasons, as well as the lack of representation in the community. For many reasons, young people are an age group that sees emigration as the easiest and fastest solution, while the more adult population is less inclined to such conclusions. Firstly, because of the psychological factor, because a young person is more willing to make drastic changes than an adult who has to think about his/her family and career. On the other hand, it is even more difficult for more mature citizens to move out because of family ties or health conditions. Throughout history, the most massive emigrations have been linked to political, social, and economic causes. In both its forms, legal and illegal, the goal is the same: a better life.

Albania has faced two major waves of emigration. The first wave coincided with the fall of the dictatorship in 1990, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the doors of foreign embassies in Tirana to seek help from foreign officials. The past under communist dictatorship was so cruel that leaving was considered to be salvation. But emigration after 2010 differs in structure. It is no longer just about emigration for political reasons, but for social and economic ones.

Unemployment and brain drain

Corruption, power struggles, despotism, centralization of power, unemployment, lack of social life, are all reasons to once again search for a better life. Today’s forms of emigration are different. Many young Albanians choose to study at European universities in order to have the advantage of obtaining a residence permit, consequently not having to return. In 2019, the lowest quota for student enrollment was recorded. None of the universities managed to meet the projected quotas for this academic year 2019/2020. The most problematic is the situation at the University of Elbasan "Alexander Giovanni", where some faculties have been closed because there were no students registered. The most desirable faculties are those that lead to an economics or nursing degree, which is due to labor market demands outside Albania. As a result of non-enrollment of new students and closure of some faculties, the number of part-time teachers who were employed each year with a one-year employment contract has decreased.

According to a survey by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation on the topic of Youth Education in Southeast Europe, 285,000 Albanians are planning to leave the country in the coming years, most of them young people. Data from the World Bank show that during the period 2011-2015 - 91,750 people emigrated. An increasing trend in recent years in Albania is the departure of Albanian healthcare workers (doctors and nurses) to Germany. The reasons for these migrations are difficult working conditions, low wages and unemployment. Due to this, one of the most important pediatric wards has a staff shortage of almost 30%. Professors, engineers, technicians, attorneys, architects are also leaving, having tired of political instability and the state of society.

Lack of a sense of representation and quality of life as a deciding factor for emigration

The need to work, to seek and secure a place in society accompanies a person for most of his life. One of the tasks of the government is to intervene with active policies to facilitate this process, but the political life in the country is focused mainly on exchanges between those in power and the opposition, letting the youth employment policies as well as social and cultural life sink into oblivion.

Mladite vo Albanija zarobeni vo sopstvenata tatkovinaSource: europeanwesternbalkans.com

Albania is surrounded by countries with similar political and social problems and events. Living in a depressive region, characterized by low levels of economic activity and high unemployment, is always an incentive for emigration. Both the lack of trust in domestic institutions and the feeling of lack of representation by the institutions of local and central government are additional incentives. Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, countries with Albanian-speaking population, also face social and economic problems. It cannot be said that a positive example of economic growth can be taken from the bordering countries. Low chances of employment have a significantly negative effect on the psychology of young people.

The effects on the youth psyche

In November 2019, Adela Gjoka, a 23-year-old girl, ended her life in a state of severe depression due to her family's extreme poverty and inability to find work. Elona, ​​a 24-year-old former student, is another girl who finds herself under stress due to labor market conditions. Unable to start a career, so far, she has worked in a call center, with a low salary and in very poor working conditions, so she left her hometown in the hope that going to school in Tirana would give her a chance of a better life. Now her only hope is to emigrate to one of the European countries. These are just two of the hundreds of cases where young people have left their hometown and family with the idea that going to school in the capital would be a good start for their contribution, but the disappointment is so great for them that it leads to anxiety and depression.

Other research shows that even when an individual is employed, but works in poor working conditions, he or she becomes anxious, depressed, and eager to move to another country with better social policies.

The minimum wage is 211 euros (2400 lek), which is the lowest wage in the region and in the European Union in absolute value. After completing the 2018-2019 academic year, about 60 teaching assistants at Epoka University emigrated to the Nordic countries and Germany. In this case we are talking about excellent students who were employed in this educational institution, but the desire for a better life made them accept another job, outside their field of education, in a foreign country.

Trapped in their own country

Amidst this pandemic, where free movement is restricted, no one is thinking of leaving, at least until the situation improves. Many citizens, disappointed with the measures prescribed by the government or with the cessation of their activity or their business closing down, always make comparisons with the measures taken by other countries, concluding that if they lived in another country, they would have better socio-economic assistance, coming from local policies of foreign countries.

We note that the quality of life plays a decisive role in leaving or not leaving the country. Lately, there is more and more talk about the poor quality of life in the country. Starting from the atmosphere around the holidays, which is evidently fading, firstly due to the economic factor and continuing down to the pessimistic outlook for a better future. City centers, despite the appropriate decorations, have lost the festive spirit. Vendors and business owners who work in the urban centers during the holidays are concerned that purchasing power has plummeted.

Consequently, we face the loss and lack of representation. Citizens do not feel represented by their state, as a result of corruption and public affairs among politicians. Shortcomings of state institutions, such as municipalities, prefectures, ministries, employment offices, courts, prosecutor's offices, etc. have become so obvious that in the case of the earthquake of November 26, 2019, the largest aid in nominal value, but also in food products, was collected at the Firdeus Foundation of Elvis Nachi, a highly popular imam, exceeding the bank account aid made available by the Government. Every day, more and more citizens make comparisons between the life they have in the country, starting from the monthly salary, working conditions, the level of state protection when working in the private sector, healthcare, education, food safety, weekends and holidays, comparing themselves to the citizens of the European Union.

With increasing demands for a higher standard of living, emigration is no longer just because of unemployment. Almost every day hundreds of people stand in front of the main entrance of the German embassy, ​​demanding some form of legal emigration. For a small country like Albania, with a population of 2.8 million (and declining), brain drain is a real disaster. However, the economic factor ranks first in the reasons for emigration. Young people do not think it is reasonable to have low wages with which they cannot afford the desired quality of life. Whatever the reason - unemployment or lack of a good life – emigration essentially has the same goal: the search for a better life.


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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Communication Studies or the donor.

Jona Koprencka

Jona Koprencka is an assistant professor at the Department of International Relations and Political Science at Epoka University in Tirana, Albania. She is a former deputy editor of the online newspaper Gazeta Mendimi, which, among other things, covers issues related to the conflicts in the Middle East and relations between Russia and NATO / US in the Balkans.