Božinović: Western Balkan countries should align their visa policies with EU's

Photo /Vijesti/2024/Ožujak/22 ožujka/Bozinovic 22.3..jpg

The Western Balkan countries should align their visa policies with the European Union's to respond more effectively to illegal migration, Croatian Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said today in Brdo pri Kranju, Slovenia.

"If the visa regimes of all the Western Balkan countries were aligned with the visa regime of the European Union, the challenge we face would be significantly less," Božinović told a press conference after meeting with his counterparts from Slovenia, Italy and several Western Balkan countries.

"This year, about 50 per cent of asylum applications were submitted by citizens of countries that need a visa to enter the European Union. They come to the countries in the region as tourists, and then at the airports in Sarajevo or Belgrade they turn from tourists into illegal migrants seeking international protection first in Croatia, then in Slovenia and Italy, and so on," he added.

Božinović noted that the increased number of illegal migrants arriving via the Western Balkan route can only be dealt with in a coordinated manner.

"The challenge that we all face on the so-called Western Balkan route can only be effectively dealt with through coordination, a joint approach. In that sense, today's meeting was a great opportunity to exchange views, as well as to agree on further concrete cooperation between Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, which are members of the Schengen area, and our neighbours with whom we share the common challenge," the Croatian minister said.

In the first two months of this year, 47 smugglers were arrested

Božinović commented on the results of an operational group called ZeBRa, which operates under Europol and is headquartered in Croatia. The group also includes police professionals from Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany and Romania. Italy could join soon, and Božinović called on all colleagues from the Western Balkans to follow suit.

"In the first two months of this year, 47 smugglers were arrested, 40 vehicles were seized, firearms and illegal proceeds were confiscated as part of ZeBRa alone. In these operations we detected two high-value targets who were under criminal investigation and who smuggled, according to current data, 525 migrants and acquired illegal financial gain of more than half a million euros," Božinović said.

Text: Hina