Smuggling migrants is a big business in Serbia

“Smuggling migrants is a lucrative business which is why there were armed clashes between migrant smuggling gangs in the Subotica area. Due to the inadequate reinforcing of the rule of law at European Union (EU) borders, the situation in Serbia will only get worse,” experts say.

“Everything that is happening in the north of Serbia and also in the border zones in the Western Balkans is a consequence of the crisis at the EU borders, and this was conducive to organized crime flourishing in countries with rule of law deficiency. Based on the current European common asylum reform, and according to a plan that has never been drawn up officially but does exist, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will become the hub for Europe’s dirty business since both countries will become detention centres. The situation will get worse because we expect the problem from the border zones to spill over to the whole of Serbia,” lawyer and human rights expert Nikola Kovacevic warns.

According to the data compiled by the KlikAktiv Centre for Development of Social Policies, there are 18 officially registered refugee camps in Serbia, which are managed by the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, yet the situation on the ground is quite different, says Milica Švabić from KlikAktiv.

“All the illegal camps are in the north of Serbia. After being beaten in Hungary or Croatia, migrants come back to us. Our organization has registered 36 unofficial camps. There were 600, 700 people in each of these camps last year. Having camps with so many people without appropriate logistics is unsustainable. It’s a huge business because migrants pay up to 6,000 euros to continue moving to the desired location. Those who don’t have that kind of money become victims of labour or sexual exploitation. The smuggling networks are very strong, not only here but also in migrants’ end destinations which are usually EU countries,” Švabić says.

She explains that the number of migrants has not decreased.

“Their number hasn’t dropped, they have just been relocated from the cities. They are now in the woods in makeshift camps, led by smugglers, and it appears that the police tacitly allow this. The first shooting near Subotica was a shocking event, yet there were more than a dozen such shootings later on. Each time this happens just two days later we’re back to square one and smugglers are there again. They flee but they return the same day, and they all know each other’s turfs,” Švabić explains.

The first showdown between migrants near Subotica took place on July 2 last year when one person was killed and seven wounded. They clashed again in the vicinity of the same camp twice in the past two months.

“This shows that all that has been happening in the past two, or three years has not produced an appropriate reaction from the relevant authorities. Things have gone too far and this can be treated as organized crime. There are suspicions that there are links between the smugglers and some members of the local police and the Security Intelligence Agency (BIA). This is a transnational crime and it can hardly work without the local government’s support. In addition to this, we have no information from the prosecutor’s office. In the end, the migrants are the ones who get the short end of the stick, then the people of Subotica, and then we, the citizens of Serbia because the authorities are unable to establish peace, order and security, and ensure the protection of human rights for those who live in the border area, and that is devastating,” Kovačević warns.

He explains that people in Subotica are not afraid of the migrants but rather of the organizers of these unfortunate events, but that people generalize things and that, in the end, the migrants are always blamed.

“A big problem is that the police do not communicate with the local population. Silence says a lot and when the police do say something they play videos showing people who they apprehended and who are treated as terrorists. This shapes the people’s negative attitude toward the migrants,” said Švabić.

No migrant policy adopted so far in Serbia, Europe or the Western Balkans has produced significant results, Kovačević underlines and adds:”“The bigger the obstacles you place before the migrants, the more situations like this we will have.”

(N1, 28.06.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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