Western Balkans has gone through rapid and significant changes regarding
irregular migration trends following the introduction of visa-free travel
arrangements with Member States
and Schengen Associated Countries.
For example, the region has transitioned from largely a source to mostly transit area in terms of illegal border-crossings. More precisely, almost three quarters of all detections of illegal border-crossing in the region during 2012 was due to transiting irregular migrants en route from Greece. The same share was less than 10% during 2009. Overall detections of illegal border-crossings increased by 33% in the cases of green borders and even higher 68% in the case of detections of migrants hiding in different means of transport (also cargo trains). Both developments were exclusively due to transiting migrants en route from Greece.
On the other hand, nationals from the Western Balkans were detected in greater numbers in 2012 for variety of modi operandi involving different type of legal travel abuse, detected either during border checks or while already in the EU. Misuse of international protection provisions in Member States and Schengen Associated Countries was by far the most prevalent given that in 2012 there were almost 33 000 or 53% more asylum applications submitted by the five visa-exempt Western Balkans nationalities (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) compared to 2011. In fact, the number was the highest since the introduction of visa –free travel and amounted to 12% of the total asylum intake in Member States and Schengen Associated Countries.*
Other abuses of legal travel channels were linked to overstay in Member States and Schengen Associated Countries. More precisely, while detections of illegal stay remained largely stable from 2009 to 2011, there were roughly one fifth more detections of Western Balkans nationals for illegal stay in Member States and Schengen Associated Countries during 2012. Increasing trend was fairly wide spread among Member States indicating thus a general tendency.
While nationals of Serbia and Albania were the most numerous in terms of detection for illegal stay, the largest increase compared to 2011 was associated with persons from the territory of Kosovo** (12% share of the total for the Western Balkans) whose detections for illegal stay rose by 62%. Furthermore, persons from the territory of Kosovo were detected in increasing numbers also across other statistical indicators of irregular migration.
Noteworthy, Albanians were the most commonly detected nationality in the EU using document fraud to illegally enter the EU/Schengen area from a third country during 2012. Almost one fifth of all detections were linked to this nationality, largely due to counterfeited entry/exit stamps designed to hide overstay.
Overall, the presented annual risk assessment, based on the Common Integrated Risk Analysis Model suggests that the risk continues to be the most elevated in the case of secondary movements of migrants en route from Greece towards other Member States. This observation is firmly corroborated also by individual assessments made by all six Western Balkan countries.
All identified risks affect both the Western Balkan countries and Member States and are linked to several strategic priorities identified by the EU in its ‘EU Action on Migratory Pressures – A Strategic Response’.*
The enlargement of the EU in July 2013 (Croatia joining) will have significant border security implications for the region given the profound changes in the length and location of the new land external borders of the EU. However, irregular migration trends in the Western Balkans or linked with the region will continue to be influenced the most by developments at Greek and Bulgarian borders with Turkey. Therefore, the sustainability of the increased operational activity at these border sections (the Aspida operation) is essential in this regard.
* EU Action on migratory pressure - A strategic response (8714/1/12), Brussels, 23 April 2012
** All references to Kosovo in this document are without prejudice to positions on status, and are in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.