Western Balkans: Cross Border Cooperation on the Migrant Crisis

In February 2016, according to Der Standard, a Serbian migrant smuggling gang was jailed in Austria for smuggling around 2000 people to Europe. As a border-state to the European Union, in the latter half of 2015 Serbia - which also lies directly on the Western Balkan route - experienced a significant increase of organized irregular migration, including human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

To increase the understanding of this phenomenon and reinforce cooperation, in November 2015 UNODC, in partnership with International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and in coordination with the Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (OSR-CTHB), organized the Regional Workshop on Strengthening Cross-border Co-operation in Addressing Irregular Migration-related Crimes in the Western Balkans, held in Belgrade, Serbia.

This followed a successful Trans-regional Workshop that took place in June 2014 on Enhancing Cooperation in Combating Irregular Migration and Smuggling of Migrants through South Eastern Europe, co-organized by the Greek Government (under the Presidency of the Council of the European Union) alongside UNODC, IOM, and OSCE.

The Regional Workshop in Belgrade was designed to strengthen cross-border cooperation between criminal justice actors and other authorities from the public and private sectors in South Eastern Europe to combat organized crime networks involved in human trafficking and migrant smuggling in the Western Balkans.

In attendance were 113 policy-makers and practitioners working on human trafficking and migrant smuggling in transit and origin States along the route, including criminal court judges; prosecutors; law enforcement officers from various agencies; officials from the Ministry of Finance dealing with anti-money laundering; officials from the Ministry of Justice dealing with seizure and confiscation of assets; police liaison officers; and international, regional, and non-governmental organizations which manage migration-related issues and victims of migration-related crimes.

Focus was placed on prevention, prosecution, cross-border cooperation, and assistance to victims and migrants. The participants also discussed the everyday challenges they face in their work and shared best practices. Ultimately, a series of findings and recommendations were agreed upon in four areas.

First, due to the low number of prosecutions and convictions of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, prosecution of these crimes must be enhanced through intelligence-led, proactive investigation techniques.

Second, due to the transnational nature of the crime committed by organized criminal groups, differences in national legislative frameworks can hinder effective cross-border cooperation, meaning that strengthening of cooperation must be sought through legislative harmonization.

Third, financial proceeds from trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants must be investigated as seriously as the initial two crimes given the grave threat they pose to rule of law and economic security.

Fourth, the balance between combating irregular migration-related crime and protecting vulnerable migrants requires a needs-oriented, human rights-based approach to build effective structures, processes, and management.

Due to the ongoing success of the inter-agency relationship, a further activity with IOM and OSCE focused on the Western Balkans is being planned for later in 2016.

For further information please contact:  

Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section,  htmss AT unodc DOT org.