Through co-operation, Balkan countries protect citizens in Iraq


Officials are assisting thousands of people from the Balkans who work in Iraq.

By Miki Trajkovski and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Skopje and Belgrade -- 24/07/14


Balkan governments try to assist their citizens working in Iraq as government forces battle ISIL extremists. [AFP]

Balkan countries are co-operating to assist their citizens who work in Iraq and to address extremist terror threats coming from that country, experts said.

Serbia helped Macedonia assist its citizens through the Serbian embassy in Baghdad, and then sought assistance from Turkey when Belgrade decided to evacuate its embassy in late June.

"We had made an agreement with the Serbian embassy in Baghdad to help our citizens in times of need. But now, we are also talking to Turkey because they have a number of consulates in Iraq," Gabriel Atanasov, spokesman of the Macedonia foreign affairs ministry, told SETimes.

Atanasov said there is solidarity among everybody on the ground in Iraq, and Turkey has shown a willingness to offer assistance.

"Every type of assistance for the regional countries is welcome, especially when it comes to such a delicate issue as the safety of our citizens," Atanasov added. Macedonia opened a crisis centre following skirmishes around Baghdad and ISIL's offensive, which resulted with the capture of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, last month.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) foreign affairs ministry took a different approach and directed its citizens to seek assistance in the country's embassy in Amman, Jordan.

"We are contacting citizens ... and will undertake measures depending on the need and the development of the situation," said BiH ambassador to Jordan Darko Zelenika.

Zelenika added that the embassy has contacted international organisations in the region that work in Iraq to offer assistance in case of need.

"Everything that is happening there may constitute a serious threat for the Balkans and for Europe because we are a transit zone. Tens of military commands of the UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army] paramilitary organisation ... today are senior officials at former ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and now the new Islamic caliphate -- a mutated al-Qaeda," Ivan Babanovski, professor at the Security Faculty in Skopje, told SETimes.

Babanovski said a temporary solution is to set up attachés at existing embassies that will share information with other countries and can organise evacuations if the crisis worsens.

"We should accept any form of co-operation with other diplomatic-consular missions and exchange security-related information daily," Babanovski said.

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Co-operation on the ground in Iraq is proof the countries can and should economise and act by joining capacities by helping one another, said Darko Trifunovic, a member of the Southeast Europe Experts Team Fighting Terrorism and Organised Crime in Belgrade.

"This is not the first time that Serbia and Macedonia have co-operated when it comes to fighting terrorism and Islamic extremism and the active al-Qaeda network that is also present in the Balkans. They have been exchanging vital information regarding national security and this exchange, furthermore, includes exchange of expertise," Trifunovic told SETimes.

By taking specific actions on the ground, they send a message of co-operation to further Euro-Atlantic integration and make clear their commitment to confronting jihadists, Trifunovic added.

What else can the Balkan countries do protect their citizens abroad from extremism? Share your opinion in the comments space.

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