When compared to 2009, the overall situation at the common borders between Western Balkan countries and their EU neighbours did not change dramatically in 2010. The only important change is linked with the visa liberalisation process for Western Balkan countries that has led to a sharp rise in asylum abuse throughout the EU and put the region in the spot light again. Consequently, this development is described in detail as an ‘Issue in Focus’.
Notwithstanding visa liberalisation, the geographical position of the Western Balkans and existing regional economic/political realities still largely determine the type, size and composition of irregular migration flows. By and large, the region remains impacted by the three distinct flows, clearly identified already in 2009:
(1) Albanian circular migration (mostly to Greece), (2) transiting flow of non-European irregular migrants that enter the EU at the Greece-Turkey border and continue from Greece to other Member States and (3) a flow routing through the Western Balkans by air and continuing by land to the EU.
The transiting flow from Greece increasingly impacts the majority of Western Balkan countries. Namely, the relative difference between detections at the Hungary-Serbia and Slovenia-Croatia border sections confirms a partial shift of this flow away from Hungary and towards Slovenia. Likewise, alternative routes (from Greece to Albania and further towards Slovenia) have been identified.
Similarly to 2009, facilitation continued to be mainly limited to local inhabitants, with only a small percentage of transiting migrants detected using more costly organised smuggling services. Hand written instructions (about the route to be taken) and extensive use of public transport remain the main modus operandi.
Likewise, asylum is increasingly abused by the transiting migrants as a method to avoid detention. Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Croatia all saw a sharp rise in asylum claims in 2010. Most of the increases were recorded after May 2010 and thus corresponded to significant increases of illegal border-crossings at the Greece-Turkey border.
Given the described correlation between the developments at the Greece-Turkey border and subsequent detections at the Hungary-Serbia, Croatia-Serbia or Croatia-Slovenia borders, the transiting flow through Western Balkan countries is significantly affected by factors such as Turkish visa policy, possible Schengen enlargement and suspension of Dublin II returns to Greece.
The flow routing through the Western Balkans by air and continuing by land to the EU remains generally limited to Turkish nationals who enjoy visa-exempt status in all six WB-RAN countries. After arrival (mostly by air) some attempt to enter the EU illegally at borders with the EU. As indicated by information from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the modus operandi remains rather simple. No major changes are expected in the near future, both in terms of the (quite limited) size and the direction of this flow.As anticipated in the WB ARA 2010, Albanian circular migration (illegal border-crossings) started to decrease in the run-up to visa liberalisation for Albania at the end of 2010. This trend is likely to intensify in 2011, both due to availability of legal travel channels and reduced demand for labour in Greece (economic crisis).