The authorities are showing results in fighting organised crime groups that smuggle Kosovo citizens abroad.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 03/12/13
Kosovo police and EULEX have identified 23 cases of organised people smuggling from Kosovo in the first half of this year. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
EULEX and Kosovo police are intensifying efforts to dismantle organised crime groups that smuggle Kosovo citizens to the EU and North America, officials said.
"EULEX and Kosovo police are contributing to disrupt criminal networks operating beyond Kosovo territory and [are] stopping the export of organised crime and other serious crimes," Blerim Krasniqi, a EULEX spokesperson, told SETimes.
Authorities recently concluded a three-year operation against a major organised crime network in Kosovo that smuggled people to the US.
Alleged ringleader Deme Nikqi was arrested in Albania in October and extradited to the US, while further investigation helped police identify five of Nikqi's alleged accomplices in Kosovo following his arrest.
The criminal group is accused of charging immigrants up to 13,000 euros to pass the US border via a route through Montenegro, Germany, Ecuador and Mexico. Kosovo police said it identified 19 organised crime groups involved in smuggling last year and reported 23 cases of organised smuggling in the first half of 2013.
In several police operations during the summer, police arrested members of three organised crime groups, two of which smuggled Kosovo citizens to EU member states via Serbia and Hungary.
Authorities said they are investigating eight cases of smuggling and human trafficking.
As Kosovo is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with unemployment exceeding 40 percent, analysts said it is a prime target for criminal groups involved in illegal emigration.
"This situation combined with the fact that Kosovo is the last regional country with a visa regime, creates naturally a potential for illegal emigration," Avni Zogiani, executive director of Cohu (Stand Up) Movement, told SETimes.
People's willingness to pay huge sums of money to cross borders in search of a better life creates significant profit for organised criminal groups, said Mentor Vrajolli, a researcher for the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies.
"[But] that makes it impossible for them, in case the destination country does not offer what they expect, to be able to return freely and immediately in their countries," Vrajolli told SETimes.
Analysts also said disrupting illegal immigration is important because smuggling has helped organised crime strengthen and regroup.
"This adds more to the problems of the reigning of the rule of law and destroys the possibilities that Kosovo could have for a normal process of visa liberalisation and integration," Zogiani said.
Bernd Borchardt, EULEX head of mission, issued a joint letter with justice and interior ministers Hajredin Kuci and Bajram Rexhepi to the Kosovo public, urging citizens to follow legal means of immigration.
"Kosovo needs to continue strengthening the rule of law while demonstrating that its citizens obey the law and seek to travel abroad only through legal means," the letter said. Some citizens are appealing to the government to address illegal immigration.
"I know [illegal] immigration is not good, but the state should do more for the people so that they do not desire to leave by any means," Flora S. from Gjilan in eastern Kosovo, told SETimes.
Flora said she paid a large sum of money to be smuggled together with her two sons via Albania to Italy, but later returned to Kosovo.
What can EULEX and the Kosovo authorities do to stem the smuggling of Kosovo citizens abroad? Share your opinion in the comments space.