|People from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria rest in a park in Sarajevo on May 10. Photo by EPA-EFE FEHIM DEMIR.|
Montenegro said it seeks a status agreement with the EU’s border and migration agency Frontex, to protect its border as a fresh migrant and refugee influx causes concern in the region and in Brussels.
An Interior Ministry document, which BIRN has seen, says an official application for a status agreement with Frontex “will be launched soon”.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, helps EU countries and Schengen-associated countries to manage their external borders and harmonise border controls across the EU.
Non-EU countries cannot become full members. However, legal documents on the Frontex website say a so-called status agreement may be concluded between the EU and a third country when it is envisaged that Frontex’s teams will be deployed to a third country in actions where team members will have executive powers, or where other actions in third countries require it.
A status agreement would set out the scope of the operation and “the civil and criminal liability and the tasks and powers of the members of the Frontex teams”.
Frontex may, with the agreement of the EU states, invite observers from third countries to participate in its activities on the EU’s external borders.
A status agreement with Montenegro would have to be endorsed by the EU’s 28 member states and formally signed at a later date.
Once the agreement enters into force, Frontex will be able to carry out operational activities and deploy teams in those areas of Montenegro that border on the EU.
To the west, Montenegro has a maritime border with EU member Italy, and to the north it shares a small land border with EU member Croatia.
However, most of its land borders are with non-EU states: Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
In June 2009, Montenegro and the Warsaw-based agency signed a working arrangement under which, according to the government document which BIRN has seen, Montenegro exchanges information monthly on migration and participates in drafting the risk analysis.
“Experience has proved that no country in the region that has been hit by migratory waves can fight this phenomenon on its own,” the Interior Ministry said in the document.
Because of the unexpected recent rise in illegal crossings, the authorities are considering erecting a Hungarian-style razor-wire fence on the 26-kilometre border with Albania.
Montenegro has accused its southern neighbour of not doing enough to deal with the problem.
The chief of border control in the Montenegrin Interior Ministry, Vojislav Dragovic, said on June 3 that a fence along the Albanian border was being considered, and Hungary had offered to help donate towards it.
But on June 16, Montenegrin PM Dusko Markovic said in an interview with the Austrian public broadcaster ORF that the country is undertaking a number of measures to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants into the European Union.
In the first five months of this year, he said, Montenego has registered about 1,500 illegal crossings, much more than in the previous year.
“But I believe that by joining forces in the region, we will be able to respond to this challenge. Montenegro has a special plan for this situation, there is an operational team that has been put into operation and I hope that we will find appropriate solutions,” he said.
He added that on June 15, the interior ministers of Montenegro and Albania agreed to intensify joint border control, that Montenegro is cooperating with the FRONTEX in operational actions, as well as through the exchange of information and risk analysis.
Markovic also said that a centre for migrants exists in Montenegro and that special locations for refugees’ reception have been prepared.
“We are strengthening our capacities, we have launched a project of reconstruction of an old Yugoslav border barrack at the border with Albania, which could be a migration reception centre in order to better control things,” he said.
Tighter cooperation between the Western Balkan nations and Frontex was one of the demands raised at a ministerial meeting held in Sarajevo on June 7.
Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic said after the Sarajevo meeting that they would “see if it is possible for us from the Western Balkans” to become part of Frontex.
The region’s interior and security ministers will meet again on June 19, in Brussels, on the invitation of the Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, to discuss the new migrant route in the Balkans that includes Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
Mektic said on June 14 that he would inform the meeting about the current situation over migrants.
“I will convey them [EU officials] these data. Brussels is worried about the migrant situation in Bosnia. I can say we have sufficient capacities for migrants, but Bosnia can’t bear the burden by itself. We need help concerning migrants,” Mektic said after a Migration Operations Staff meeting on June 14 in Sarajevo.
Around 6,500 people entered Bosnia this year so far, more than 5,800 of whom expressed a wish to claim asylum. However, only 611 have actually applied for asylum in Bosnia and none were approved yet, Mektic said.
The International Organisation for Migration, the UN migration agency, also warned on June 1 that migration flows through the Western Balkans are on the rise.
From January to the end of May, authorities in Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania registered more than 6,700 new migrants and asylum-seekers, more than twice the 2,600 migrants and asylum-seekers registered in the three countries over the whole of 2017.
According to local media reports, the migrants and refugees crossing the Balkans come mainly from Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Palestine and Iraq.