In the first half of this year, the number of illegal border crossings at Europe’s external borders fell by nearly a one-fifth from a year ago, to 36,400, mainly because of the effects of the Covid pandemic. The drop was especially pronounced on the Western and Eastern Mediterranean migratory routes. But, more recently, European border agency Frontex has recorded a sharp increase in migrants hoping to enter the EU.
The Western Balkans became the most active migratory route, and in the first half of this year, almost 9,300 migrants were detected at the EU’s border, 73 per cent more than in the first six months of 2019. The number of migrants crossing the Western Balkans has increased due to higher numbers of people who had originally landed in Greece and the easing of Covid measures by the national authorities in the region. Two of every three migrants were Syrian, while Afghans accounted for 17 per cent of border crossings.
The Western Balkans have always been one of the main paths into Europe. In 2015, the record number of migrants arriving in Greece had a direct knock-on effect on the Western Balkan route, as the people who entered the EU in Greece tried to make their way via Macedonia and Serbia into Hungary and Croatia and then towards western Europe. This led to unprecedented numbers of migrants seeking to re-enter the EU through Hungary’s borders with Serbia. In 2015, the region recorded 764,033 illegal border crossings by migrants, a 16-fold rise from 2014. However, after this record number of arrivals to the European Union in 2015, the number of illegal border crossings on this route has been falling steadily. But, dealing with the migrant crisis has taken its toll on the political and financial situation in nearly all the countries in the Western Balkans.
Western Balkan countries are still faced with the problem of the ongoing migrant crisis and resolving the consequences and all other issues that are caused by the movement of people, which is still clearly continuing in 2020.
From a security point of view, several published cases by media or by police forces, show that there has been a large increase in organised crime in the area of migrant smuggling. Also, the danger cannot be ignored that some extremists may try to infiltrate Europe disguised as migrants, as has already happened. Therefore, security risks and threats that are tied to the problem of migration have a foothold, but timely preventive and operational activities and cooperation at regional and international level can bring under the problem under control and prevent violent actions.
In addition to the security aspect, the Western Balkan route is a social, political and humanitarian challenge. Western Balkan countries have already felt the weight of the migrant crisis, and for this reason are supported by the EU and other donors to develop their own action plans. They have taken adequate measures to create acceptance and support towards migrants during the migrant crisis. The response of governments of some countries towards the migrant crisis are different, because they are derived from the need to stop migration or control it, especially concerning the reception of migrants and humanitarian issues. The current fractured and ad hoc approach to migration management in the Western Balkans must give way to more serious and shared attempts at tackling common challenges and keeping citizens safe from any harm.