Overall, the number of migrants transiting the Balkans is down sharply, although traffickers are blazing new trails in the region. A new Balkan migration route is opening, Bosnian officials and migration experts are saying.
A Western diplomatic source told AFP the route runs from Greece through Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia, following an itinerary used by arms and drug traffickers.
From Bosnia, migrants cross into Croatia en route to Western Europe. Bosnia’s border police are understaffed and would need 500 additional officers to keep up with the rising numbers of migrants, Security Minister Dragan Mektic said recently.
Mektic said some neighboring countries were failing to respect readmission agreements, thus hindering Bosnian attempts to deport illegal migrants.
These countries “don’t carry out effective checks: people are turning the other way at those borders, knowing that migrants will go elsewhere,” he said. He urged the international community to monitor the situation at the Albanian-Montenegrin border, where migrants can cross without any checks.
Bosnia’s ability to handle the increasing migrant numbers is limited, AFP says, noting there is space for just 154 people at the country’s sole reception center for asylum seekers.
“We have no capacity to accept thousands of refugees … although they do not want to stay in Bosnia,” Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic said recently.
The country has recorded a 600 to 700 percent rise in the number of undocumented migrants, in part due to the closure of the “Balkan route,” ANSA cites Mektic as saying. Many of the 1 million-plus migrants who reached Western Europe in 2015-2016 followed a route from Turkey through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, bypassing the mountainous terrain of Bosnia.
The number of migrants trying to enter the country remains small, however. Bosnian border police said they prevented 847 migrants from entering the country between 1 January and 25 March, the Independent Balkan News Agency reports.
The EU border agency Frontex recorded 12,178 illegal border crossings along the Western Balkan route in 2017, the lowest figure since 2012. Just over 42,000 illegal crossings were recorded in the Eastern Mediterranean (Cyprus, Greece’s sea borders, and Greek and Bulgarian land borders) – slightly below the average annual figure for the pre-“migration crisis” period from 2008 to 2014.
It is not possible to establish the actual number of persons illegally crossing borders, because the same person may cross a border several times, Frontex says.
(Source: TOL, Compiled by Ky Krauthamer)