Fighting Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling in the Digital Era: Empowering Western Balkans Frontliners

Budva, Montenegro - This week in Budva, from 13 to 17 May, law enforcement agencies and social welfare representatives across the Western Balkans came together for a Regional Training of Trainers aimed at enhancing capacities to combat human trafficking and migrant smuggling, particularly in the digital realm.

In recent years, the landscape of criminal activity has been significantly reshaped by the rapid evolution of digital technologies, providing organized criminal groups (OCGs) new avenues to expand their operations. Criminal business are capitalizing on opportunities offered by the online environment and the digital solutions already omnipresent in the modus operandi of migrant smugglers and traffickers.

As the Western Balkans region continues to be affected by increased mixed migration migratory routes and heightened criminal activities exploiting the vulnerabilities of migrants, including migrant workers who might face an increasing risk of exploitation without strong due diligence in place and access to information, strengthening capacities for prevention, investigation and prosecution of perpetrators remains a top priority.


Complementing previous initiatives and recognizing the urgent need for capacity-building in digital evidence and high-tech crime for all relevant authorities, the comprehensive training employed a multi-disciplinary approach aiming at empowering cooperation among police, prosecution, and social welfare representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia, and the Republic of Serbia for effective victim support and investigation coordination.

Despite ongoing efforts, organized crime networks keep finding ways to exploit the most vulnerable, especially through digital technologies. Through collaborative sessions with prosecution, police forces, social welfare, and migration authorities, we have been working over the past five days in strengthening their skills and building their capacities on digital investigation, identifying how the online recruitment of potential victims is happening and assist them in getting the skills they need to become future trainers and expand this knowledge on identification, collection of digital evidence and bringing the justice to those in need. We have also placed a very particular focus on victim centered approaches, as one of the most important modules of our training”, stated Ms. Nerimana Rifatbegović, IOM Project Coordinator.


The training curriculum encompassed a range of topics, including digital investigations and crypto tracing, crucial components in combatting the growing vulnerability of individuals to exploitation within digital contexts. Facilitated by experts from IOM and EU4FAST project, these sessions brought theoretical insights with practical examples, enhancing participants' proficiency in navigating new modus operandi.

During the training, in one module we had a simulation exercise of interviewing a victim of human trafficking. We got a real case and a scenario based on a real case of labor exploitation. An examiner was present as well as a social worker who provided psychological support to the victim of human trafficking. I am proud and glad that on behalf of my country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I managed to show what kind of protection and benefits our country can offer to people who have gone through such types of torture”, said Ms. Merisa Nurkić, Prosecutor at the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The training not only addressed the challenges posed by digitalization and labor exploitation but also provided guidance on adopting victim-centered approaches to combatting these crimes. With 27.5% of respondents in IOM's Flow Monitoring Survey in the WB reporting direct experiences of abuse, violence, or exploitation along migratory routes in 2023, prioritizing trauma-informed and protection-sensitive interviewing techniques is paramount. Through immersive role-playing exercises and collaborative sessions led by IOM and Council of Europe experts, participants gained valuable insights into establishing supportive environments for victims and witnesses.

Drawing upon best practices and lessons learned, IOM has integrated simulations and didactical/instructional techniques into the training framework, fostering long-term sustainability and stakeholder ownership in capacity-building actions across the Western Balkans. Organized by IOM within the regional WBJAST project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Denmark, the training was conducted in cooperation with the project “EU Support to Strengthen the Fight against Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Human Beings in the Western Balkans” (EU4FAST-WB), which is jointly co-financed by the European Union (EU), the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Italian Ministry of Interior (IMoI), and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NL MFA), and with the Council of Europe.

For more information, please contact IOM Western Balkans at