Strengthening national and local systems to support the effective socio-economic integration of returnees in the Western Balkans

UNDP Albania

Strengthening national and local systems to support the effective socio-economic integration of returnees in the Western Balkans


“Strengthening national and local systems to support the effective socio-economic integration of returnees in the Western Balkans” is part of the IPA II Multi-Country Action Programme entrusted to UNDP, the WB and the CoE, to support the fundamental rights of Roma community and other vulnerable returnees, in three countries of Western Balkans, namely in Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia.

The project is implemented to address the reintegration of the significant number of returnees from the EU during the last years, while the Western Balkans countries were declared “safe countries of origin”. In 2017, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia were ranked among the top 20 countries with the highest number of nationals with unregulated residence status in the EU. Limited work opportunities, low-paid jobs, large informal sector and the poor quality of health and education services, among others, due to neglect and disinvestment in social infrastructure, are some of the main drivers of outward migration.

In this context, the project enhances the capabilities of the Western Balkan authorities to implement holistic solutions to economic and social empowerment of returnees. By tackling the root causes and negative drivers of migration of Roma and vulnerable populations, the project contributes to implementation of the broader social inclusion agenda in the Western Balkans.

The ultimate objective of the project is to translate the tested models into national regulation and public policies and programmes for sustainable reintegration of vulnerable returnees, while UNDP primarily addresses the local level challenges.

The project works closely with local level institutions responsible to provide services for the reintegration of returnees with a main focus to those from Roma and Egyptian ethnic minority, with local civil society actors and local business community. The community of returnees, is considered both as beneficiary and partner during the implementation, aiming to create ownership of the actions foreseen to take, to the returnees themselves.

The project tackles a variety of key hindrances to reintegration, including but not limited to:

  • developing or improving local strategies and services in the benefit of reintegration of returnees;
  • supporting local government institutions to improve service provision and respond to the reintegration needs of the returnees; 
  • setting-up a data collection system for systematic monitoring of the progress in the implementation of local returnees’ strategies;
  • providing personalized support to individual’s growth, reflective of individual’s education, skills, experience, preferences and professional aspirations by equipping returnees with a suite of soft, technical and digital skills to improve their employability in the formal labour market;
  • supporting returnees with entrepreneurial potential to start their own business;
  • supporting the implementation of community cohesion component of local reintegration strategies through small grants schema for local government units and local NGOs, in order to encourage engagement of returnees to improve trust and collaboration between them and resident population;
  • improving access to social and administrative services by returnees including by use of digital tools;
  • strengthening capacities of NGOs and public service providers for effective provision of services including with the application of new digital tools.

Important noting is that based on the learning and knowledge assembled during the implementation, the project aims to promote the regional dialogue among policy makers and practitioners, on topics of significance for the sustainable reintegration of returnees, in order to provide a space for exchanging the views and experience between policy makers and policy practitioners.

In Albania, this project is being implemented in Municipalities of Fieri, Devolli and Berati.


Irregular migration spreads across all demographics, however social and ethnic groups, Roma and Egyptian men and women comprise a significant share. The quantitative and qualitative surveys conducted by UNDP and the World Bank in 2017 underscore disproportional social and economic hardship as a main trigger of irregular migration and asylum application of Roma and Egyptian men and women, where Roma and Egyptian women are even more vulnerable.

While health, social and economic impact of COVID-19 crisis is still trickling down and affecting all segments of society, statistical evidence single out migrants among the hardest hit groups alongside informal and seasonal workers. Returnees often remain invisible for the social safety nets or Governments’ relief and recovery packages.  Although various dimensions of migration and reintegration of returnees are being addressed in national strategic and policy frameworks, their implementation has suffered from the ineffective mechanisms for horizontal (inter-institutional) and vertical (central-local level) coordination, weak institutional capacities, and scarce financial resources.


Major achievements

  • Activities in Albania have been focused on mobilizing local partnerships for the development and implementation of the local strategies and action plans for sustainable reintegration of returnees. During the consultation process, a wide range of innovative measures and approaches have been developed and preconditions set for their implementation. Some of identified priority measures include setting up of soft and technical skills development programmes, adaptation of active labour market measures to meet the needs of the vulnerable returnees, soft and technical skills development, entrepreneurship programmes, provision of social and education services etc. The comprehensive approach and inclusive consultations, which have been applied along this process  have made the problem of returnees more visible for both central and local authorities, helped them to recognize the scale of the challenge and the specific needs and barriers that returnees and vulnerable Roma experience upon their return in home communities. In many instances, engagement of returnees in the dialogue with local institutions and business sector representatives has led to concrete solutions for removing institutional and administrative bottlenecks in the implementation of legislation and policies as well as in identification of job opportunities for mostly young unemployed women and men.
  • 3 local multi-stakeholders’ platforms established in and coordinated by municipalities in Albania.
  • 3 local returnees reintegration action plans are developed by municipalities of Devoll (adopted), Berat and Fier.
  • Two model methodologies and operating procedures for implementation of innovative economic empowerment programmes have been developed in Albania. The first one on “Training services in entrepreneurship, business start-up, business growth and providing mentorship for returnee’ new entrepreneurs in Albania” started its implementation. The second one on integrated employment services is still under procurement.
  • Under the action different institutional and implementation models for integration of vulnerable returnees have started to be applied in Albania (along North Macedonia and Serbia) which fit their respective policy and institutional context. During the implementation, evidences have been collected to explore potential transferability of the models to other IPA beneficiaries.
  • In Albania, unemployed returnees are now being identified, profiled by NGOs and then liaised with the National Agency for Skills and Employment and the Local Labour Offices to register as active job seekers to access services or participate in the active labour market measures. The application of different approaches to tackle similar challenges has helped to develop a model that is adjustable to different policy and institutional contexts as well as to different levels of capacities of policy makers, public service providers, specialized NGOs and beneficiaries across the region.
  • Methodology and format of individual employability improvement plans developed in Albania. 21 individuals have been employed through mediation; 2 individuals are participating in internships in cooperation with the National Agency for Employment and Skills in Albania. 25 individuals are in the process of being equipped with employability improvement plans. 9 individuals are part of the active labour market measures.
  • Information materials are provided to returnees regarding social protection entitlements, available services, including legal aid, psychosocial protection, health care etc. 7 NGOs and civil society organizations support returnees and their family members in obtaining personal IDs, including for accessing health care, social services and school certificates, recognition of informal education through digital skills (Albania).
  • Cooperation with European Union Delegations as well as with other relevant players in the field in all three IPA beneficiaries is being carried out on a regular basis.

Project Outcome

    Output 1 - Local returnee integration strategies are developed with selected municipalities foresees development of local reintegration strategies, aiming to improve the livelihoods and social wellbeing of returnees and the broader community, tackle local governance issues, capacity and institutional bottlenecks and gaps of service providers and business ecosystems, which hinder the effective implementation of  reintegration policies.

    Activity 1.1. Creation of multi-stakeholders’ platforms in 9 municipalities

    Activity 1.2. Development of local strategies and innovative programs for the social and economic reintegration of returnees.

    Output 2 - Elements of local returnee integration strategies are implemented in selected municipalities, including innovative activities on livelihoods and skills building, etc aims to demonstrate new approaches to economic empowerment and social cohesion, which will form the main pillars of local reintegration strategies.

    Activity 2.1. Integrated support to improve employability of returnees.

    Activity 2.2. Implement innovative programmes in supporting business start-ups and productive partnerships with local businesses.

    Activity  2.3. Promoting social cohesion by organizing community-based programmes.

    Activity  2.4. Regional dialogue among policy makers and practitioners in the area of sustainable reintegration of returnees.

    Output 3 - Significant number of urgent administrative issues faced by returnees are addressed will seek to identify and develop innovative approaches to public service provision, by developing and utilising a number of digitalized tools and laying the ground for introducing integrated case management. 

    Activity 3.1.  Improve access to social and administrative services by returnees including by use of digital tools.

    Activity 3.2. Strengthen capacities of NGOs and public service providers for effective provision of services including with the application of new digital tools.



    October 2020


    June 2024




    United Nations Development Programme










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