BELGRADE (Reuters) - A parliament-appointed rights official in Serbia has suggested that the country, blighted by years of depopulation, should ask migrants flooding through the Balkans from the Middle East to settle in hundreds of empty villages.
Birthrates in Serbia have been falling for decades and, coupled with the departure of thousands of young people in search of work in western Europe and North America, the population has fallen more than five percent since 2002.
Hundreds of villages are largely devoid of people.
“We should consider offering them (migrants) to stay in the parts of Serbia that are empty,” Brankica Jankovic, Serbia’s Commissioner for Protection of Equality, told B92 TV on Tuesday.
“A selection should be made, a detailed security screening.”
About 100,000 migrants, many of them from Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East, have entered Serbia this year on their way through the western Balkans north to Hungary and Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
Jankovic was chosen to run Serbia's human rights watchdog in May and had been proposed by the ruling coalition led by the conservative Progressive Party.
Her suggestion drew some criticism.
Jelena Milic, director of the Belgrade-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, said it amounted to “ethnic engineering”.
“Settling migrants in empty areas, even with their consent, is ridiculous,” Milic told Reuters.
“How they would integrate into society living in the parts of the country with no economy and no people?”
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Louise Ireland)