Illegal migration is a security threat to Southeast Europe and requires a regional solution, experts say.
By Ivana Jovanovic and Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Skopje -- 07/03/13
A group of illegal immigrants warm up near a gas heater at a temporary shelter in the northern Serbian town of Palic. [AFP]
The Western Balkans, as a transit region to EU countries, continues to experience a growing number of migrants who illegally cross borders, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Analysts said that co-operation is the best way to solve the region-wide problem.
"An integrated regional approach is considered the best way of tackling the migration issues," Trpe Stojanovski, director of the Migration, Asylum and Refugees Regional Initiative, told SETimes. "The creation of common rules in the asylum procedures based on the respect of human rights in accordance with international laws is also important."
Illegal migration represents one of the main security threats for the region because of its connection to human, drug and weapon trafficking, Brankica Grupković, representative to Serbia and Montenegro at the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, told SETimes.
The number of illegal migrants has significantly increased since 2009, when a new type of illegal migration surfaced -- the secondary transit for illegal migrants from Africa and Asia to the EU, according to Serbian Border Police.
"The region is faced with a very complex migration scenario, not only due to its geographic position and dense traffic infrastructure, but also due to a variety of socio-economic and political factors ... The phenomenon of illegal migration through the region as a gateway to the European Union is presently a focus of both [the region] and EU countries," Grupkovic said.
The latest data from Serbia border police shows that more than 1,000 people tried to pass Serbian borders illegally and about 14,000 were discovered illegally crossing at the customs' controlled green line in 2012. Most illegal migrants charged by Serbian border police are citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Serbian border police and the interior ministry have numerous activities on regional and inter-state levels," the police office told SETimes. Currently, Serbian border police are working with their counterparts in Austria and Hungary.
The Balkan route is a transit region to the EU countries. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
The longest border in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is the one with Croatia, almost 1,000 kilometres. Co-operation between these two countries is necessary, but Croatia's pending EU accession is a challenge for both countries.
"Co-operation between the border police and the Croatia police exists at all levels. Preparation of a new agreement on border traffic that will be compatible with EU standards is ongoing. Protocols with Croatia relating to joint patrols, liaison officers, the official transit and research teams, will still be in use," Vinko Dumančić, BiH Border Police director, said.
Montenegro and Macedonia have had a bilateral memorandum since 2007 on transnational crime, human trafficking and illegal migration. Co-operation takes place via information and document exchange.
However, Grupkovic said, the fight against illegal migration issues should be focused on strengthening controls at the borders and the enhancement of co-operation along the routes of illegal migration.
"This includes the establishment of a harmonised legal framework, joint efforts in tailoring and implementing policies to address illegal migration as part of overall migration governance, joint analytical work among the countries concerned and the exchange of intelligence results."
Ivo Kotevski, Macedonian interior ministry spokesman, told SETimes the ministry is tackling border security to prevent illegals from entering Macedonia.
"We are working on detection of those already in Macedonia and their deportation to the countries they came from, and detection of those involved in international smuggling of persons. Currently, there are 40 criminal charges against 70 such persons. We continue giving high priority to this problem," he said.
But, Kotevski reminded that borders cannot completely shut down and Macedonia, in addition, is on the main transit route to Europe.
"Co-operation with the police in the Balkans is intense in this matter. We carried out several joint actions with the Serbian police, and co-operate with Bulgarian, Albanian, and Kosovo police. Still, despite measure taken, illegals find new ways and places to travel," Kotevski said.