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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 16:38 GMT
EU to fight Balkan traffickers
Boat of illegal migrants from Montenegro, intercepted by Italian coastguards
The EU plans to help Balkan states control their borders
By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

Now that the former Yugoslavia is at peace, the European Union is concerned to ensure that the Western Balkans, so long prey to ethnic conflict, do not become captive to organised criminal structures.

Meeting in Brussels on Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed that urgent priority should be given to combating human trafficking, most of which appears to be coordinated from the region.

Immigration officials in Dover find an illegal immigrant in the back of a cargo truck
Many illegal immigrants come into Western Europe hidden in long-haul trucks
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that in the first 10 months of last year, over 50,000 illegal migrants have passed through Bosnia on their way to the West, with a further 40,000 Chinese nationals in Yugoslavia awaiting transportation into EU countries.

Last June, the discovery in the English port of Dover of 58 Chinese illegal migrants who suffocated in the back a lorry, triggered calls from EU leaders and public opinion alike for more concerted action.

The UK Government says that according to intelligence information, some of those who died in Dover had travelled through the Western Balkans.

EU help

UK proposals
Deploy EU police and immigration officials in the Balkans
Help Balkan countries control borders
Increase penalties for traffickers
Rapid response
Ensure return of illegal immigrants
With the support of the foreign ministers, the UK is now developing a set of proposed measures to tackle the problem.

They include setting up a network of EU police and immigration officials in the region by the middle of this year, aimed to share information and to co-ordinate a rapid response to illegal migration.

The UK also wants to see informal arrangements between national police and immigration officials on the EU's eastern borders, as well as in Balkan countries to combat organised crime and to strengthen judicial and administrative structures.

Tougher penalties

We want the authorities in Bosnia, the authorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and elsewhere to understand that we're looking to them for co-operation

Chris Patten
European Commissioner for External Affairs
Other British proposals concern the adoption of tough penalties by next March for traffickers and transport carriers found to harbour illegal migrants, as well as more assistance for local authorities to ensure the return of illegal immigrants.

Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for external affairs, said new programmes will be launched this year.

"We aim to first of all increase police training and the training of the judiciary, and secondly to improve contacts between the police, the judicial authorities and the border authorities in all the countries in the region."

The EU expects more practical co-operation, both from countries in the region that want to put bilateral relations on a new footing - such as Albania, Yugoslavia and Bosnia - and from countries that rely on Western aid, such as Montenegro and Kosovo.

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See also:

05 Sep 00 | Europe
Balkans main immigrant route
26 Jun 00 | Europe
Europe to battle people smugglers
30 Jun 00 | Europe
Chinese trafficking gang busted
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