Balkans Need EU Help With ‘Dramatic’ Migrant Influx

Trpe Stojanovski, director of the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative, tells Balkan Insight that Balkan countries cannot deal with rapidly rising migrant numbers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Q: How are Balkan countries responding to the wave of migrants transiting through the region in the hope of reaching Western Europe?

A: It’s not a normal situation for the region, because the last few years the number has grown dramatically. Before, we spoke of dozens of cases per year in each of our countries.

Now this number has increased by several hundred or even thousands, which is a big challenge for the countries. The major issue is the accommodation of these people and maintaining reasonable standards during their stay in the countries in the region.

The other issues is financial, because each person costs money and our countries have limited resources. It’s a dramatically new moment, which calls for additional infrastructure, and additional sources to uphold human rights and keep the situation under control. An additional challenge is the necessity for further cooperation between countries in the region, which has seen some progress, but this progress has been limited.

This is not an issue of the countries of the Western Balkans but a global challenge and such a global challenge requires a global response. It is important that the European Union and neighbouring countries come much closer, at least to establish some sort of common standard or strategy of prevention and management of this situation, which will surely continue.

Q: Is Greece doing enough to stop migrants passing through to Macedonia and Albania. There have been complaints that it’s transferring its problem.

A: Although I agree with such statements, it won’t help much to solve the problem. I am not in favour of delegating responsibility to neighbours; the question is whether we can search for a more integrated regional solution, and in that sense we have to respect the difficulties that the Greek side faces. Geographically, Turkey and Greece are much more affected from the flow of migrants.

On the other side the concern of the Macedonian authorities is the lack of institutional communication with the Greek authorities. Unfortunately Macedonia has no common border centre with Greece, which exists with other bordering countries and is a sign that the countries are involved in searching for solutions. We have to cooperate and the sooner we do it the better.

Q: How is organized crime exploiting migrants trying to reach Western Europe through the Western Balkans?

A: It’s difficult to speak about specific numbers. However, the phenomenon of migration is closely connected with organized crime, with trafficking in human beings and even with smuggling migrants. The fact is that the police in the region are pretty efficient and treat this issue as a priority and the consequences for criminal groups have been sharp.

In Macedonia several cases have ended in court convictions, which may serve as an efficient deterrent. On the other hand, migration is a phenomenon that will continue to grow. What is going on in the Far East, Asia and Africa and the global context gives us indications that this phenomenon will not stop.

Q: What are governments in the region doing to increase capacities to accommodate migrants?

A: This is a complex issue and there is no simple answer. There is a tremendous growth in the number of asylum seekers, who are only temporarily staying in the region on their way to their final destination in Western Europe. The enormous growth of the number of the migrants challenges the performance of the states to manage the issue in a satisfactory way.

From that point of view, considering the numbers, it’s impossible to manage the situation and at the same time respect the human rights of these people. The countries in the Western Balkans are aware that they cannot solve the situation on their own and need much better cooperation with EU countries, which must be improved. 

Q: Is the situation with refugees in the Balkans reaching a crisis level?

A: That depends on the angle from which you view the issue. Countries in the region face a dramatically new situation, which absorbs a lot of capacities in the budgets, and cannot manage this issue in such a way that everyone is satisfied.

Headquartered in Skopje, The Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative, MARRI, is a regional network formed in 2003 by Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia with the aim to contribute to the orderly and free movement of people in the interest of security and prosperity.

Check Also

Albanians Aren’t Indebted To Italy For Its 1990s ‘Welcome’ – OpEd

Edi Rama’s justification for the migrant deal with Rome – that Albanians owe Italy a …