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Migration Policies | Croatia |

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Migration Policies

Pascal Goeke

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Croatian migration policies were for a long time part of an encompassing policy, in Croatia partly so named diaspora policy. In Croatia, the concept of the diaspora encompasses a history of displacement from the home country (displacement of Croats in this reading was led by the Serbian dominated socialist-authoritarian regime), a collective myth about the home country including its territorial expansion, history and accomplishments, an idealization of the home country together with the obligation to preserve its heritage, an ambivalent attitude to all countries of destination for migrants as well as the belief in a return. Out of this follows that the corresponding migration policies, on the one hand, promote the return of those Croatians living abroad together with their descendants and, on the other hand, set up a kind of minority policy to protect the rights of Croatians living abroad. Accordingly, these diaspora policies must be understood as an important means of ethnic-national strengthening and unification of Croatia after its founding in 1991. Although the diaspora objectives lost meaning, they have an after-effect in present migration policies: to date, the interest in current or potential non-Croatian immigration remains low.

Emigration from and immigration to Croatia

2001 – 2011

1In 2011, in the context of the effort to harmonize methodologies in view of EU membership, the statistics were modified.
The increase in 2011 is therefore likely to be an effect of these changes.
of which, emigrants to:
European Union
no data availableno data availableno data availableno data available1.2682.1752.3071.2999.8201.6972.633
of which, immigrants from:
European Union
no data availableno data availableno data availableno data available2.3622.6872.5792.8201.7399971.818
Migration balance16.9278.59811.92111.5718.2187.2865.6207.053-1.472-4.875-4.165

Source: Croatian Bureau of Statistics (2006), p. 113; (2010), p. 120; (2012), p. 122
Licence: Creative Commons by-nc-nd/3.0/de
The Federal Agency for Civic Education, 2013, Externer Link:

Target Groups

Historically conditioned and connected with the outlined idea of diaspora, the Croatian migration policies addressed three more or less different groups. First to be named are those migrants (together with their descendants) who have left Croatia or former Yugoslavia for various reasons. Secondly, it addressed the Croatians who themselves were not forced to migrate but due to the historical development do not live in Croatian territory—most importantly this deals with Croatians living in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to a lesser extent those in Serbia. A third unspecific target group of Croatian migration policy is to be differentiated from both of these "diaspora groups", and that group comprises immigrants in general. This group is, however, both politically and quantitatively rather unimportant.

Population of Croatia by population groups

Census data from 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001, 2011

1) Until the Census in 2001, Bosniaks were not listed as a national minority.
2) Until the Census in 1971, regional ties were not surveyed. Declaring one’s regional affiliation is a way to avoid an ethnic classification.
Republic of Croatia,
total population
of which
Regional Ties2… 2)… 2)8.6570,1945.4930,959.3020,2127.2250,64
not specified15.7980,3617.1330,3773.3761,5379.8281,826.7630,62

Sources: Croatian Bureau of Statistics (Externer Link:, (12-15-2012)
Licence: Creative Commons by-nc-nd/3.0/de
The Federal Agency for Civic Education, 2013, Externer Link:


The normative undertone set with the term of the diaspora makes the development of the Croatian migration policies understandable. Immediately after the nation’s foundation in 1991, migration policies were operated in party platforms, in the law on Croatian citizenship, in governmental programs for the development of Croatia as well as in the context of numerous visits by high ranking politicians to those Croatians living abroad. The foundation of a ministry for immigration in November 1996 also attaches importance to the Croatians of the diaspora. The right to citizenship and areas of law potentially related to remigration (e.g. customs regulations) were liberally constructed accordingly. These policies also included efforts by Croatia to actively resettle Croatians in the regions of Krajina and East Slavonia after it had displaced those Serbs living there in 1995.

Formal Restructuring and Historical Continuity

The migration policies were restructured in the year 2000, after the effusive nationalism was internationally increasingly regarded with skepticism, the settlement policies in the region of Krajina were sharply criticized, after Croatia was urged to enable the return of the once displaced Serbs or to indemnify them for their property loss, as well as after the death of the overly powerful President Franjo Tuđman in 1999. Looking at the prospect of membership in the EU and its regulations, the law concerning foreigners was reformulated and the right to asylum was established. Although the laws have since then corresponded to EU requirements (or were later minimally readjusted) and do not foresee any significant legal differences between descendants of Croatians or 'non-Croatians', the Croatian migration policies continued to be aimed de facto primarily at Croatians and their descendants. This happened despite the fact that a number of reasons (e.g. the age distribution of the Croatian population, the low birth rate, the negative migration balance) make a migration policy aimed at immigration appear sensible.

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Dr. Pascal Goeke is research assistant at the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Email: E-Mail Link: