The centres allow for exchange of information among border police forces and joint operations.
By Miki Trajkovski and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Skopje and Belgrade -- 16/01/14
Macedonia Minister of Internal Affairs Gordana Jankulovska (left) and Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic (right) open the new joint border police centre at Tabanovce. [Facebook]
Balkan countries are establishing joint border police centres to address the increasing number of illegal immigrants, primarily from Africa and Asia, who pass through the region on their way to Western Europe.
Serbia and Macedonia opened a joint centre at the Tabanovce border crossing late last month. About 4 million people pass through the crossing annually, making it one of the busiest in the region.
"In the cases [of external illegal immigration] as well as in cases concerning citizens of our countries seeking asylum illegally in Western European countries, we try to act preventively through direct exchange of information and joint activities," Macedonia Minister of Internal Affairs Gordana Jankulovska said.
Jankulovska said Macedonia also has established joint border police centres with Bulgaria and Albania, and would like to open one with Greece because many illegal immigrants come from that country.
Similarly, Serbia signed an agreement with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last month to establish a border police joint centre in Trebinje in BiH, near the tri-border area.
"The centre will significantly help prevent and limit illegal immigration, for one of our greatest challenges is to reduce the number of fake asylum seekers as well as cross-border crime," said BiH Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic.
Radoncic said the current efforts build on the existing activities BiH has undertaken that have resulted in a 7 percent reduction of fake asylum seekers in the past year.
The agreements guarantee a more effective flow of information and operations that will improve safety and discourage illegal immigrants, said Dragan Zivkovic, project manager at the International Security Institute in Belgrade.
"Enhanced joint intelligence operations work by the border police and armies is key, and these types of agreements are a good step forward," Zivkovic told SETimes.
Zivkovic also said to most effectively act against illegal immigration, regional countries should establish joint centres as well as bilateral and regional co-operation with third countries.
"To uncover illegal immigration, it should be surveyed from the place of origin," he added.
Experts said Europe's north-south transportation corridor No. 10 passing through the Balkans is one of the main routes for illegal immigrants.
Trpe Stojanovski, director of the Regional Centre for Asylum and Migration in Skopje, said it is important to extend the number of centres in an effort to form regional networks that include consular experts.
"Next, the countries will institutionalise this co-operation by way of memoranda to encourage providing statistical information to make surveillance easier. But they need to adopt a unified methodology," Stojanovski told SETimes.
Officials in Albania said there is a need for joint police centres because the country has been affected by new waves of illegal immigration from places such as the Middle East.
"Albania established joint police centres with Kosovo and Macedonia, and the expected-to-be-opened centres with Montenegro and Greece," Florion Serjani, an advisor at Albania's internal affairs ministry, told SETimes.
Experts said organised criminal groups use Albania as a transit country for illegal immigration, and regional countries need to co-operate to counter the threat.
"Border controls have not been as effective and there are instances when criminal acts have not been sanctioned," said Sokol Gashi, lecturer at the state police academy in Tirana.
Serjani said that based on bilateral agreements, regional countries are also forming joint border patrols that can fine undocumented migrants.
"Albania has signed and we are implementing readmission agreements with the rest of the Balkan countries," he added.
Correspondent Erl Murati in Tirana contributed to this report.
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