What challenges remain after the closing of the Balkan migrant and refugee route that passed through the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia? Main tasks for the Macedonian Intelligence Agency (AR) further remain: illegal migration following through transit countries of the Eastern Mediterranean route and suspected traffickers identifying.
The most common impression around the refugee and migrant crisis is one of a humanitarian catastrophe. People, who lost their homes and everything they’d created, fleeing from war, headed towards a more peaceful region. While this impression about the migration and refugee crisis could be stated as undisputed fact, the dark side of illegal migration remained largely unknown to the general public. According to information from the Intelligence Agency (AR), as well as from Macedonian security services and partner organizations, the refugee and migrant route was also used for the return of mercenaries from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, transporting terrorists who intended to execute terrorist attacks in European countries as well as human trafficking, smuggling and forgery. These threats were and would remain in focus of the Macedonian Intelligence Agency.
THE ROLE OF THE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
AR, through its activities regarding the migrant and refugee crisis identified more than 120 persons involved in human trafficking, issue of fake identification papers and travel permits and visas for the purpose of smuggling refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, through Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary to Germany and Austria as final destinations. The main role of the institution in the declared crisis situation is providing fast and accurate information on the state of migration and all its aspects across the eastern-Mediterranean route.
AN UNPOPULAR BUT ONGOING PROBLEM WITH POTENTIAL THREATS
The reduced frequency of refugees on the border crossings from conflict-stricken areas, along with the so-called “economic migrants” takes the public focus further away from the refugee and migrant crisis. However, that does not necessarily mean that the risks and potential threats cease to exist. The situation is considered stable from the second quarter of 2016, but there is fresh information about a change of tactics practiced by the illegal traffickers. This not only poses a risk to security but also visibly increases the potential for abuse of human rights.
The Agency has assessed a decreased use of the eastern- Mediterranean Route (15.000 newly arrived migrants and refugees in Greece) but spotted an increased frequency of people along the central Mediterranean route (110.000 newly arrived migrants and refugees in Italy from Libya and Tunisia) in the course of the year 2017. AR can single out the following most significant characteristics regarding this situation in 2017: use of social media for promotion, identification and establishing initial contact between migrants and smugglers, as well as the use of encrypted chat applications for continuous communication. In the field, it has been established that smugglers use so-called “insurance offices” along the routes that take cash payments if people are successfully smuggled across borders to a pre-arranged destination. A reduction in process has been registered for smuggling people across borders from Turkey to the Greek islands. New trafficking channels have also been established, including: Turkey – Italy, Turkey – Ukraine, Istanbul – EU, Bulgaria – Romania and Ukraine – EU.
The Macedonian Intelligence Agency’s main challenges remain: to monitor migration along the eastern-Mediterranean route, and to identify potential threats and abusers (human traffickers and forgers of visas and travel documents). One of the main goals is to disable the use of migration routes for smuggling of mercenaries-returnees from the battlefields of Syria in Iraq as well as identification and prevention of potential terrorist threats.