The deployments will be part of the bloc’s strategy to crack down on illegal migration through the western Balkans
The European Commission revealed a plan on Monday to crack down on irregular migration through the western Balkans by deploying border agents to countries in the region, as well as encouraging their governments to end free travel agreements with source nations.
The measures are meant to address a surge in migration to the EU through southeastern Europe. According to the border agency Frontex, between January and November 2022, there were almost 130,000 attempted irregular border crossings along western Balkan routes, three times more than during the same period the previous year.
“We need strong EU presence on the ground, and to exploit to the maximum the potential and the new mandate of Frontex,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, who supervises migration policies, told journalists.
The EU already has status agreements with Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and North Macedonia, which allow Frontex agents to take part in joint operations with relevant agencies in the region, the commission said. A similar arrangement with Bosnia and Herzegovina is pending.
The bloc seeks to admit the Balkan nations as members, but expects the candidates to first change certain policies and regulations to meet EU requirements.
The Financial Times noted that it was the first instance of Frontex officers being stationed outside an EU jurisdiction. The outlet cited an unnamed EU official as saying that using Frontex personnel outside the bloc is “a totally massive step.”
The agency has around 500 agents stationed along borders that member states share with western Balkan nations. The deals, which would allow them to be placed inside non-EU countries, would come with around €40 million ($42 million) in equipment for host nations, according to EUobserver.
The bloc is also pushing western Balkan governments to change their visa policies, calling it “a matter of priority.”
“It’s unthinkable, it’s not acceptable that western Balkan countries have visa free arrangements with third countries that are then exploiting the loopholes to get illegal access into the European Union,” Schinas stated.
In October, Serbia announced that it would be suspending visa-free travel arrangements with Tunisia and Burundi under pressure from Brussels. Ylva Johansson, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, said on Monday that all nations in the region still have “significant gaps” as far as aligning their visa policies with those of the EU.
Other parts of the action plan include boosting law enforcement action against smugglers, strengthening asylum reception capacities and processing of applications by western Balkan states, and ramping up their cooperation with the EU on readmissions of migrants.