BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 20th November, 2019) The participants of the annual EU-Western Balkans Justice and Home Affairs ministerial forum on Tuesday issued a joint statement in which they acknowledged the "close links" between irregular migration to Europe and international crime.
The forum was held from Monday-Tuesday in the North Macedonian capital city of Skopje. The European Commission was represented by the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality and the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. The attendees included the ministers of justice and interior of the Western Balkan states, as well as of Finland and Croatia, representing the incumbent and incoming presidency of the European Union Council, respectively.
"The Ministers recognised the close links between migrant smuggling and other criminal activities such as extortion for money, arms smuggling and connections to international organized criminal networks. The ministers committed to continue and enhance cross-border cooperation and information exchange on these issues," the statement read.
According to the text, the attendees also agreed to cooperate more closely for mitigating the existing "migratory challenges," such as the repatriation of refugees.
"The Ministers stressed that ensuring effective border management and fighting migrant smuggling remain the top priorities for both the EU and the Western Balkans," where the number of illegal border-crossing and migrant smuggling both increased, the press release continued.
In particular, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina sparked special concerns in Europe, in which regard the European Commission "took note of the commitment Bosnia and Herzegovina to take urgent measures to address this situation," including by increasing the country's reception capacities, the press release added.
The Western Balkan route is the most popular land route of irregular migration to Europe from the middle East. Though it was officially announced closed in 2016 after the EU and Turkey stroke deal for the latter to ease Europe's migration burden, arrivals never stopped.
Earlier in October, the International Red Cross (IRC) warned of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe boiling in the Vucjak refugee camp on the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia. The largest reception facility in Europe, it is seriously overpopulated, with migrants stranded for months without decent medical care and living conditions. Many suffer broken bones and communicable diseases. The IRC urged all countries concerned to come up with urgent measures for the relocation of Vucjak's population.