The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) continues to play a crucial role in fostering regional cooperation and supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration in South Eastern Europe. Therefore, any initiative aimed at enhancing regional cooperation and coordination should ensure the active participation of the RCC as a priority.

At the request of the European Commission (EC), IOM undertook a sector feasibility study in order to ascertain the current situation within the Western Balkans in regard to transit irregular migration from outside the region, and to identify and conceptualise practical solutions therein, focused upon key elements identified by the EC itself. The direct, on-the-ground nature of the research allowed the researchers to identify the most pertinent issues, and encompassed meetings with a wide range of state and non-state actors, ensured that the report remained consistent with the situation in each country and reflected the wide range of priorities, interests, and national particularities.

The study highlighted that the nature of migration flows in the region has altered in recent years, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) – like other countries in the region – is now experiencing an increasing number of irregular migrants from extra-regional countries of origin. In the context of this increase, there is a need for further regional coordination and cooperation to curb irregular migratory flows towards the EU; irregular migration in the Western Balkans is inherently a multilateral concern and desired outcomes are most likely to be achieved if countries in the region cooperate and coordinate to resolve them.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a member of the Southeast European Law Enforcement Centre (SELEC) and the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI). In consideration of the changing nature of migration flows as highlighted above, there is scope to strengthen the capacities of MARRI in order to position it as a central coordination mechanism at the regional level in the context of migration management.

The authorities in BH support the establishment of a regional allocation for an Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) Fund, managed by an international organization or regional initiative, which would have the benefit of allowing the organization/initiative to respond swiftly to changes in trends across the region and mobilise resources timely and in relation to emerging and pressing needs through allocating funds where most needed. This regional allocation would also constitute a more logical and effective intervention than AVR at the national level, as the numbers at the national level in many countries in the region are not constant and might alter over time, and would also allow the intervention to be led from one central location, decreasing the management and administrative costs involved.

To supplement the above, there is scope to strengthen consular cooperation with Montenegro and Serbia in those countries of origin in which one of the countries has a diplomatic presence. Such initiative would facilitate cooperation in regard to the identification of third country nationals and enhance the process of their return and readmission.

As the nature of irregular migration flows in the Western Balkans have altered, the majority of asylum seekers and irregular migrants are now extra-regional. However, the countries in the Western Balkan region do not currently have access to interpreters for all languages spoken by these migrants, nor the financial resources to independently ensure the provision of interpreters for all of these languages. A regional pool of interpreters, to which each country would have access, could alleviate the issues faced by each country in communicating with extra-regional asylum seekers and irregular migrants. A pool of interpreters would constitute a cost-effective approach, for which countries in the region would share resources, and would be facilitated by both videoconferencing and on-the-spot interpretation. The creation of a pool of interpreters to be utilised by each country in the region is a solution that was welcomed by all the counterparts met during the study as a long-term and cost-effective solution, through which interviews could be conducted with asylum seekers in BH via video-conferencing/Skype.

In the context of Croatian accession to the EU, cross-border cooperation with Montenegro and Serbia should be a focus of future initiatives, in order to build upon existing measures and ongoing initiatives and ensure that the three countries are able to manage any changes in the nature and scale of cross border transgressions and irregular migration in the context of maintaining an external border with the EU. Initiatives should focus on the EU approximation of countries in the region, through facilitating coordinated measures in the fight against cross-border transgressions, enhancing administrative and operational capacities, and supporting tailored capacity building of all competent bodies involved in migration management.

IOM is in the process of implementing a project aimed at establishing a tri-lateral Police Cooperation Centre (PCC) along the border of BH, similar to those already operating within the EU. The PCC will facilitate the prompt exchange and sharing of information between law enforcement agencies from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, promoting capacity building and the development of regional operational cooperation. The Centre will facilitate increased cooperation between border law authorities with regard to border security, combating organized crime, illegal migration, and human trafficking and smuggling. The Centre will fully comply with Schengen border security standards and bring BH closer to the EU acquis. Investing in PCCs during the pre-accession phase create effective tools that will continue to function once BH becomes a part of the EU. The project will establish standardised procedures for the exchange of information and adopt common training guidelines, which take into account EU legislation and best practices as well as the particular requirements of BH. In this context, the project will not only create a structure that will remain wholly practical subsequent to EU accession, but is envisaged as a structure that will lead to the establishment of further Centres within the region.

The legal framework and capacities at the national levels in the region at present preclude any initiatives aimed at sharing of EURODAC-type information. It is crucial to bring all Western Balkan countries to an equal technical level and, at the same time, facilitate necessary changes in national legislation and the development of requisite agreements in the region. Therefore, it is crucial to establish and support regular regional meetings that build on existing regional initiatives, including the participation of experts from EU Member States, in order to harmonise migration-related policy, legislation, and operational procedures.