Almost 50,000 illegal border crossings from Western Balkans in 2021

According to data from Frontex, the EU’s border force, in the first 10 months of the year, 48,500 illegal border crossings were detected through the so-called ‘Western Balkan route’. [Shutterstock / Ajdin Kamber]

During the first months of 2021, Kosovo’s border police repatriated 1530 migrants from the Middle East and Africa back to Albania after crossing the border illegally, while thousands more have travelled and moved on to Europe undetected.

According to data from Frontex, the EU’s border force, in the first 10 months of the year, 48,500 illegal border crossings were detected through the so-called ‘Western Balkan route’. In October, more than 9,000 were identified, an increase of 140% on the year before. Furthermore, 40% of migrants who entered the EU illegally came via the Western Balkans in the same month.

Over the last two years, Albania has become a prime transit corridor for migrants and people smugglers hoping to travel to the EU. Coordinated networks of Moroccan, Kurdish, and Albanian criminals have transported thousands of migrants, predominantly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, from Greece and sometimes North Macedonia to Kosovo and Montenegro.

From there, the journey continues to the edge of the European Union, where they attempt to apply for asylum or sneak across the border to work and live illegally.

BIRN, a Balkan investigative reporting platform, said that taxi drivers in Tirana will often frequent areas where migrants can be found, offering them transit to the borders for between €50-100. Taxi drivers that spoke to BIRN on condition of anonymity said the travel demand is increasing every day.

They also reported that some travel to Albania legally with a visa from their respective embassies and then illegally to Europe.

An Albanian national interviewed by Exit.al on several occasions due to his involvement in migrant smuggling said business is picking up again after a summer lull.

“It was quieter in the summer, there were some arrests, so people stopped, but now they are starting again. There are a lot of requests,” he explained.

The man told Exit that migrants could pay for a ‘package’ to come from Thessaloniki in Greece, across the Albanian border, and onwards to Kosovo.

Once across the Greek border, the journey continues to Tirana. He said there had been deals made with police from certain areas to ensure safe passage along specific stretches of road. In cases where there are not, the traffickers get creative.

“I drop them off, drive on past the checkpoint, and then send one of them my location on WhatsApp. Then I wait and load them up again,” he explains.

Once in the capital, they are taken to a “safe house” where they have time to shower and rest before continuing their journey. Every handover between drivers includes sending locations and photo’s of the migrants to prove everything is in order.

While arrests are frequently reported in the Albanian media, the statistics show that many are passing through undetected.

(Alice Taylor | Exit.al/en)

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