Countries in the region are now experiencing an increasing number of irregular migrants from extra-regional countries of origin transiting through the Western Balkans with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, and Algeria constituting the principal countries of origin. The Frontex Risk Analysis Network (FRAN) Quarterly for the period July - September 2012 reported that, compared to the previous quarter, detections of illegal border-crossings undertaken in EU member states by Syrians doubled to nearly 4,000 in the quarter.
The rise in the number of extra-regional irregular migrants transiting through the Western Balkans has also served to increase the number and scope of criminal organizations facilitating the movement of irregular migrants, and it is obvious that the widening of the EU external borders with the Western Balkans, as a consequence of the accession of Croatia to the EU, is likely to change the nature and scale of the migration flows passing through Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH), including an increase in the number of irregular migrants that transit through BH to enter the EU through Croatia.
In consideration of the recent accession of Croatia, the border between the two countries constitutes a principal land border of the EU, at over 1,000 km in length. There are ongoing initiatives to strengthen the management of migration flows at this border, including strengthening the capacities of law enforcement officials of both countries to implement joint patrols, and it is crucial to build upon existing synergies and the mechanisms in place to ensure that this border does not become an extensive porous entry point to the EU. This is a critical point in consideration of the Western Balkans constituting an important transport nexus for drugs into the EU, with well-organised and professional criminal groups utilising long-established trafficking routes. Though the trafficking of heroin has traditionally constituted the most pertinent issue, the 2012 UNODC World Drug Report highlights a clear increase in cocaine trafficking via the Balkans in recent years, which attests to the continuing importance of these trafficking routes.
The accession of Croatia is likely to increase the number of migrants readmitted to BH from Croatia under the Readmission Agreement between the two countries, and it is crucial that this is monitored to ensure that the mechanisms and structures are in place in BH to manage any rise, whilst maintaining the human rights and dignity of the migrants.
It has been noted that the scope of irregular migration is becoming increasingly well organised, with an increased level of recidivism of irregular migrants, which increases the pressure on the state resources in BH. As a result of targeted and strategic initiatives funded by the EU and bilateral donors, a range of structures and mechanisms related to migration management are in place in BH and the capacities of competent bodies are adequate to manage the situation at present. However, these structures and mechanisms were typically established in response to the situation at the time, and thus competent bodies in the country will likely struggle to manage an increasing volume of irregular migrants of extra-regional origin without the provision of further support and targeted interventions.
Return and readmission is problematic; Bosnia and Herzegovina has signed readmission agreements with other countries in the region and further agreements have been signed but not yet ratified with Turkey and Moldova. Whilst bilateral negotiations have taken place in recent years with extra-regional countries, very few readmission agreements have been signed. The Readmission Agreement with Turkey contains an inadequately formulated third country national clause. Therefore, the return of third country nationals to Turkey is not a systematic procedure under the Agreement as it stands. In practice, it does not constitute an agreement that would facilitate the return of third country nationals/irregular migrants from the region, and BH is expending an excessive proportion of its limited budget in identifying and transferring these migrants from one country to another.
Whilst national systems in BH include mechanisms for facilitating the voluntary return of irregular migrants to their countries of origin, the effectiveness of these mechanisms is hindered by lack of funds and consequently, the return of extra-regional irregular migrants to their country of origin is an infrequent practice.
In the context of any future EU accession process and the relevant integration measures therein, all countries in the region will have to comply with EURODAC regulations upon accession. Therefore, providing technical assistance for the upgrade/establishment of the national computerised registration systems for irregular migrants and asylum seekers would constitute an initiative with a long-term perspective. Any intervention should aim at incorporating biometric identifiers (fingerprints) in accordance with the EU rules and standards in BH, and ensuring compliance to EC Regulation No 862/2007 and full compatibility with the EURODAC system of the EU member states. This should be supplemented through developing the capacities of competent bodies within the country to ensure that they are able to operate the system in accordance with EURODAC rules and standards as well as the EC Regulation No 862/2007. To facilitate the exchange of data to enhance the management of irregular migration, it is crucial to strengthen and harmonise the legal provisions according to the EU acquis in regard to biometric data collection, data protection, and information exchange.
The capacities of the Joint Risk Analysis Centre (JRAC) require enhancing in undertaking risk assessments and analysis and subsequently sharing the findings to coordinate activities at the sub-regional level as well as to develop national strategies. The JRAC facilitates inter-agency information sharing and coordination on risk analysis, bringing together the analytical capabilities of the border management agencies and the Ministry of Security. However, there is still scope to enhance the risk analysis capacities of the JRAC, particularly in the context of identifying and understanding risks in relation to the EU accession of Croatia, and therefore better forecasting future trends and proposing measures.
A pertinent issue faced by BH in returning irregular migrants is the lack of mechanisms for positive identification. This issue is accentuated by the rise in irregular migrants from extra-regional countries, most of whom are not in possession of any identity documentation. Enhancing mechanisms for cooperation with extra-regional countries of origin of these migrants would serve to shorten the process of determining identity further and augment possibilities for their effective return.