25 December 2019

Migration, a major challenge for both the region and the international community

Stelian Teodorescu

Globally, migration was initially seen as a major technique problem when ensuring cooperation, but lacking of a political agenda to have clear objectives. When, in 2015, over one million migrants came to Europe and created the idea of a provoked crisis, debates started and got more intense in terms of the proper methods to build a better organized and more effective system to manage this phenomenon. Western Balkans is the centre of international community’s attention, due to concerns on region’s entities reduced capacities in managing and even stop migration’s waves. After 2015’s refuges’ crisis, the political statements, made within many regional and international summits, have underlined the necessity to reduce illegal migration, make borders’ management more effective and consolidate the fight against organized crimes systems from Western Balkans region. Migration towards, but also from Western Balkans, is the most important social issue, a tendency which will be a challenge for the generations to come, for the region, but also for EU and the entire international community.

Image source: Mediafax

The dynamic of Western Balkans’ migration phenomenon

Legal migration, but especially illegal one, towards and from Western Balkans, is creating a profound fear and discomfort feeling across European states.

As for emigration from the Western Balkans, a study made between 2015 and 2017, on half million people from 152 countries, and recently published by Gallup has revealed that 42% of the Kosovars want to emigrate, such result placing Kosovo on the first place in Europe and third in the world. It is noteworthy that, in BIH and Albania, 32% of the citizens want to leave for other states, these two entities being followed by North Macedonia with 30% and Serbia with 25%. Surprisingly, Montenegro enjoys a „positive” rate, having the possibility to receive 25% of other states’ young and educated labour force.

Given this context, it is noteworthy that Albanian and Kosovar citizens’ asylum requests have created an increasing dynamic: Albanian people’s number has increased from 16.000 asylum petitioners in 2014, to 66.000 in 2015, and Kosovars’ number from almost 17.000 in 2013, to 34.000 in 2014 and 66.000 in 2015.

As for immigration towards Western Balkans, between January and December 2018, 61.121 illegal migrants were officially registered by region’s entities authorities, almost fivefold than 13.216 enlisted in 2017. A major increase was seen in BIH where, in 2018, the authorities registered 23.848 migrants. In Montenegro and North Macedonia, authorities have reported an increase of sixfold comparing to 2017 meanwhile Albania’s increase was from 752 immigrants in 2017, to 3.401 in 2018. There were registered four times more immigrants in Slovenia as well, in 2018 being registered 8.477, comparing to 1.933 registered in 2017. A similar increase was also registered in Kosovo, where in 2018 there were registered 590 new immigrants, comparing to 147 in 2017.

However, this 2018 number increase in Western Balkans’ space, is way under the total of 194.093, registered in 2016. If in 2016, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and North Macedonia have registered a percentage worth of 95% of the immigrants who transited the region, in 2018, BIH took over the first position among the four countries which enlisted 80% of immigrants’ total number in the mentioned year.

We should remark 2018’s important increases in terms of Albania and Montenegro’s immigrants’ number, countries which were not affected by migratory waves in 2016. This reveals and confirms the change, starting with 2017’s half, of the routes immigrants used to transit Western Balkans’ region, a tendency which continued also in 2018.

More than half of all enlisted migrants (62%) were reported as citizens of four countries- Pakistan (26%), Iran (12%) Afghanistan (12%) and Syria (12%). Often, Pakistan was reported as the native country of migrants registered in Serbia, Slovenia and BIH. In North Macedonia, more than half of the migrants (55%) declared their Iranian nationality, meanwhile the most common reported nationality for migrants in Croatia was Afghan (20%). Hereof, Syria was the country to be the most reported as native state for migrants registered in Albania (31%) and Montenegro (43%).

Comparing to 2015, more and more migrants are using a new Balkan route, which is passing through Albania, Montenegro, BIH and partially Serbia to get to EU’s member states, generating increasing concerns related to the emergences of possible humanitarian and security crisis. In 2018, BIH became the preferred transit country for Western Balkans migration waves, with more than 24.000 of the migrants.

After the migrants used new Western Balkans’ transit routes to get to Western Europe, there have emerged mutual allegations regarding the ineffective measures adopted to protect the borders. Sarajevo’s authorities (BIH) have called on the “lack of honesty” in neighbour entities, but also the lack of responsibility in terms of migrants’ waves direction towards BIH and further, towards EU. In order to handle such situation, there were created new facilities, being financially supported by Council of Europe’s Development Bank and EU, almost 4.000-5.000 people still being in the country, waiting for a chance to pass the border to Croatia.

Comparing these statistics, we can remark two interesting things for the 2017 and 2018 evolution, which is a change in terms of Pakistan and Afghanistan migrants’ weighting, on one hand, but also a weighting change between migrants from Algeria and Iran, on the other hand. Iranian citizens’ increased presence in the region, in 2018, can be partially reasoned through the agreement signed between Serbia and Iran regarding visas’ liberalization regime. The agreement, introduced in 2018, led to Iranians’ increased presence in North Macedonia and BIH in the second and third trimester of 2018. However, it is important to underscore that, after cancelling the previously mentioned agreement, at the end of 2018’s summer, the number decreased drastically in that year’s last couple of months. At the end of 2018, there were 9.528 migrants and asylum petitioners who were living in different parts of the region, 88% of them being in BIH and Serbia’s centres.

 According to available information, migrants are changing locations really quickly, which shows that, regardless of their native states, they are permanently looking for solutions to plan their future trips towards East Europe.

Hence, migrants and asylum petitioners’ total number enlisted in EU, at the end of December 2018, was 75% bigger comparing to 2017.

Migration in Western Balkans, essential concern for the international community

Migrants’ waves’ management in the Western Balkans gets addressed through a common international approach, based on rules and policies applied by region’ partner countries that EU also tries to support, including on its member states’ territories.

As consequence, in 2015, Germany created legal methods in the form of access on the German labour market, across a less known event of the migration policy: Western Balkans Regulation.

Its elaboration was part of a larger initiative of Berlin’s authorities to reduce the number of those asking for asylum in Germany and it emerged after a big number of people came from Western Balkans (Albania, BIH, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) to this country, but also due to Middle East or Africa’s migrants number increase, who entered EU’s member states on different migration routes in Western Balkans’ region, most of them illegally.

As for the Western Balkans case, which was and continues to be highly debated, migration, especially the illegal one, became a major challenge created by sources outside the region, producing important consequences, especially in Eastern Europe. Given these circumstances, at German chancellor’s initiative and because there have been celebrated 100 years since the start of World War I, Western Balkans’ entities leaders and their homologues from various EU member states met in Berlin. This initiative’s main purpose was materializing a great contribution to Western Balkans’ reform process, especially in terms of “solving the pending bilateral and domestic issues and get to reconciliation across and between region’s societies”. These initiatives also aimed at stimulating region’s economic development, as after the Berlin meeting there were also held the annual summits from Wien, Paris, Trieste and London. Poland and Croatia were appointed to host the next similar events in 2019 and 2020.

The most critical moment for refugees’ crisis, from 2015, pushed Wien Summit’s participants to adopt, across the mentioned initiative, a common perspective according to which “the Western Balkans route has become the primary transit route of mixed irregular migratory flows from the Eastern Mediterranean to the European Union.” The statement also applauded EU’s institutions and member states’ efforts in helping Western Balkans’ countries. They have underlined that such efforts are revealing “the willingness of the Western Balkan countries to fully assume their own responsibilities in the field of migration, asylum and border management with a view of their European perspective.”

The Declaration adopted after the Paris Summit, from 2016, has revealed the magnitude of the migration crisis that Europe is facing and has, again, admitted Western Balkans’ countries effort to reduce illegal migration. In Paris, parts have identified the fields wherein regional cooperation between EU and Western Balkans should be reinforced: the return and re-accomodation, the police forces, information exchange, coordination, common combat operations of bootleg and organized crimes systems.

Within the Trieste Summit, from 2017, migration was seen as a “challenge on the continent”, being highlighted the necessity of an effective answer, “based on solidarity, partnership and common responsibility principles”.

In their speeches, EU’s officials have directly tied Western Balkans’ enlargement to mutual interest on migration control, being repeatedly underscored that commitments’ consolidation on borders security and migration management is one of the six so-called “emblematic initiatives”[i] the European Commission started in order to support Western Balkans’ transformation and offer a trustable integration perspective.

Therefore, migration’s control is and will be the key element for EU’s enlargement process in the Western Balkans, as security and migration are the cooperation fields which require meetings between parts, but also concrete support for Balkan countries in terms of borders’ management process consolidation, Europol liaison officers’ activity, the continuous promotion of common investigation teams and closure of agreements with Frontex.

Hence, an important operational cooperation agreement was signed between the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and Albania, announced by the European Commission and implemented through dispatching human resources[ii] to support the Albanian police in stopping illegal migration. Another Western Balkans entity, Serbia, recently signed a 28 million Euro agreement with the European Commission to support borders and migration management.

Migration’s magnitude and its effects led to individual initiatives in states like Switzerland, which is not an EU member state. Therefore, based on article 100, from the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals, Swiss authorities have signed agreements on migration with BIH (April 2009) and Kosovo (February 2010). These partnerships’ purpose is increasing the cooperation on migration with native and transit states, considering all parts’ interests. Initially, it was created an interdepartmental strategy for 2012-2015, document’s purpose being to represent a strategic framework for the cooperation efforts on migration. This first strategy stopped being effective on 31.12.2015, and afterwards it was created a new similar strategy for Western Balkans partnerships, for a new period, 2016-2019, approved on 29.10.2015, which came into force starting with 01.01.2016. The main objective of the Swiss Strategy on migration partnership with Western Balkans, 2016-2019, was the consolidation of partner countries’ capacities to properly face migration’s challenges and use their economic and social development potential in their favor. Switzerland tries to build institutional and operational capacities, through dialogue and common projects, in all region’s partner authorities, in terms of migration policy and its management, including the encouragement of a large use of regional systems and platforms. Such approaches allow Switzerland to unfailingly reach its interests related to migration and, concurrently, to give partner states, their communities and migrants the proper attention.

Therefore, as presented above, last years’ evolutions on migration have led to the implementation of concrete policies, like EU’s programs ones[iii], in cooperation with relevant agencies and institutions, but also of other international actors interested in managing this untamable phenomenon.

Possible consequences and solutions

Migration and its defective management are, for Western Balkans’ six entities, a major challenge that could led to unpredictable consequences, to have disastrous effects when associated with region’s domestic issues, like the religious and ethnical ones, corruption and organized crime, low standard of living, high unemployment rates or limited media liberties. Such consequences could negatively influence region’s stability and security, especially if we think that the current Balkan leaders did not prove to be able to immediately answer to region’s current geopolitical challenges.

Recent migration’s dynamic has forced European but also US policy makers to focus on EU’s neighbourhood. It is extremely important for the foreseen support for Western Balkans’ countries to be mainly directed on decreasing migration’s pressure, but also on cooperation’s intensification in combating systems responsible with migrants’ bootleg.

Besides human resources support, the financial support must focus on intra-regional and inter-regional information exchange and on consolidated identification mechanisms of the most effective and efficient decisions, to have a medium and a long term impact on Western Balkans, but also on Europe.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[i] European Commission’s strategy starts from six important initiatives, which are EU’s actions to be implemented in the following years to support Western Balkans’ transformation efforts in mutually interest fields. Hence, it is noteworthy that EU’s strategy initiatives are targeting aspects like (concrete actions for 2018-2020): Rule of law’s consolidation; Support for social-economic development; Initiative for digital agenda; Security and migration consolidated cooperation; Energy and transports connectivity increase; Initiative on reconciliation and good neighborhood relations.

[ii] This Frontex mission is the first to take place outside EU’s territory, which contributes to stopping illegal migration in Western Balkans to Eastern Europe.

[iii] The European Investments Bank, which implements projects to support the economic resilience and addresses migration’s causes, has assumed, at a declaratory level, across the EU-Western Balkans summit from Sofia, May 2018, its intention to continue to stay connected to this region, even if the main responsibility is on region’s governments.