In Halle, expatriates from the Balkans don’t want to go home

 While the Covid-19 spread seems controlled by the Balkan countries, their nationals settled in Halle, in Germany, prefer to stay in their host country. The healthcare system is to blame, they say, underfunded and a victim of corruption.

Facing the coronavirus epidemic, the Balkan countries barricade themselves. As soon as mid-March, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which are still waiting to be included inside the EU, have put in place drastic confinement measures. "People who are older than 65 are not allowed to leave their homes, except three hours during the week", explains Bojana, from Bosnia and employed by Friedenskreis in Halle, in East Germany. The rest of the population isn’t allowed to leave from 5 pm to 5 am. If they dare to return, nationals settled abroad must be put into isolation : “The police is waiting for you at the airport and sends you to the dormitory”, says Armend, 24 years old, who comes from Kosovo and takes care of Europan volunteers in Halle.

All those expatriates from the Western Balkans don’t necessarily want to come back. “I feel loke my home is here”, testifies Jovana, 35 years old, native of Serbia, youth trainer and lecturer in Halle. Bojana mentions another reason for staying in Germany : the healthcare system.


A defecting healthcare system 

While hospitals in Western Europe are put under pressure by the Covid-19, the ones in the Balkans seem to be even more unfit. According to WHO statistics, Bosnia only counts 2 doctos per 1000 habitants, and Kosovo 2,3, against 3,1 for Serbia, 3,2 for France and 4,2 for Germany. “The health system had to be rebuild from scratch after the war", explains Armend, who has a degree in political science and international relations. Yugoslavia didn’t have invested a lot in Kosovo.” There, according to two studies quoted by Balkan Insight, “a doctor leaves every other day and two nurses leave every day.” As for the ones who stay, they can be bought, assures Bojana : “If you come from a wealthy family, with lots of influence, you’ll have a better access to care as a person without connections. One can bribe the doctors.”

In Armend’s opinion, those defficencies explain the strict confinement measures : “Because of a bad healthcare system, we need preventive measures.” For now, they seem effective : according to the John Hopkins Institute, on Monday the 13th of April, Covid-19 had caused 80 deaths in Serbia, 39 in Bosnia and only 7 in Kosovo. “Considering the current numbers, they are managing pretty good", considers Matej, 19 years old, born in Bosnia, who’s volunteering in a Kindergarten In Halle. But if the number of cases go up by thousands, it will be very difficult to control. To limit the epidemic, Western Balkans also count on the European Commission, which announced on Mars the 30th a 38 million euros help to their intention. Under the condition, recalls Bojana, that everyone benefits from it : “Even if the help arrives, it doesn’t necessarily mean that It will be distributed and correctly used.”


Repeated attacks on public freedoms

Expatriate settled in Halle worry more about a future economic crisis, which could hit the Balkans especially hard. “In Bosnia, the system isn’t like in Germany : you’re fired and that’s it”, drops Bojana. In her native town, a restaurant chain had to fire almost 50 people, because of lack of government support, assures the young woman.

Jovana, as for her, is more fearful of attacks on public freedoms allowed by the virus : “We have a dictator in Serbia and people feel even more exposed and oppressed under this emergency situation.” She mentions the example of a journalist, who had troubles while she was investigating the lack of masks in her hometown’s hospital. “She was arrested then let out, for “spreading" panic.” It’s the same pretext that used the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, one of the three entities that compose Bosnia-Herzegovina, to justify its new “fake news” law related to the virus. In Montenegro, the names and addresses of people put in isolation were even published online by the government, who refreshes the list daily. Facing the critics of the NGO, the Prime minister Duško Marković considered that “the right to health and life had priority over personal data protection.”

As for now, the volunteers in Halle are assured to be able to stay in Germany. Their thoughts are mostly driven towards their close ones. “I’m waiting until April the 28th before going home”, decided Matej, who would like to visit his parents. Bojana, as for her, fears that the frontiers become walls : “I’m not very comfortable with the idea that something happens to my parents and I could not go back”, she adds.


Louis de Briant