Organized crime groups in the Western Balkans

The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) published their research focuses on the six European Union (EU) accession candidates from the Western Balkans (WB6): Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Its objectives are to map the phenomenon and main characteristics of organized crime groups (OCGs) in the region. The analysis is based on the research of both primary and secondary data, using expert interviews, police announcements, official statistics, national SOCTA documents, etc.

The study finds that OCGs from some countries such as Albania, Montenegro and Serbia developed largely international networks with 30 and more members. These OCGs represent the main actors and leaders of organized crime (OC) in the region. Other OCGs which have fewer members (from 3-4 to around 15), perform mainly on a national level or as facilitators of bigger OCGs. Male gender is the most common (in about 90% of the cases). Women are engaged in logistic activities, although there are individual cases where they are higher in the criminal group hierarchy. The age of the members can vary between 20 and 50 years old, depending on the activity and territory. The estimated average is around 35, but there are cases of members aged 65 and over. The nationalities and ethnicities of the OCGs follow the patterns of their regions, having solid bonds with their families and traditions. However, differences in background do not stop OCGs to cooperate and make criminal networks.

The main criminal activities performed by the OCGs in WB6 are the illicit drug trafficking and migrant smuggling. At the same time, illegal firearms and explosives trafficking and money laundering serve as facilitators of the major activities. Less frequent crime types are organized property crimes, where smuggling of goods is the most prominent activity. Trafficking in human beings has recently been much-evoked in public, mainly by large migration going through the Balkans and creating opportunities for illegal migration and human trafficking. Still, it seems like the authorities currently do not identify big OCGs in the trafficking of human beings. In addition, cybercrime represents an incremental trend, but there also seem to be no prominent OCGs which perform it as a core activity.

To read the document, follow this link>>>.

 

Child-centred harm reduction

Harm reduction has become increasingly influential in drug policy and practice, but has developed primarily around adult drug use. Theoretical, practical, ethical and legal issues pertaining to children and adolescents under the age of majority – both relating to their own use and the effects of drug use among parents or within the family – are less clear.

The document created by a group of experts proposes a sub-field of drug policy at the intersection of harm reduction and childhood which we refer to as ‘child-centred harm reduction’. It provides a definition and conceptual model, as well as illustrative questions that emerge through a child-centred harm reduction lens.

Many people in different countries are already working on these kinds of issues, whose work needs greater recognition, analysis and support. In beginning to name and define this sub-field we hope to improve this situation, and inspire further international debate, collaboration, and innovation.

To read the document, please follow this link>>>.

 

How to respond to drug-related problems among migrants, refugees and applicants for international protection in Europe

Migration has had an increasing impact on European policymaking over the past decade, in the wake of what has been called the ‘refugee migration peak’. In addition to an influx of refugees, European countries have experienced relatively new intra-European migration flows, while health and social disparities persist among populations with longer-established migration patterns.

This publication “Responding to drug-related problems among migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities in Europe”, produced by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), presents the available prevalence studies of illicit substance use among migrants and ethnic minorities and discusses their limitations, as well as looking at prevalence and risk factors for substance use among refugees.

Two subsections focus on specific issues among non-refugee third-country nationals and Roma. Section 2 of this paper summarises risk and protective factor mechanisms in an ecosocial framework, while sections 3 and 4 are the core of this paper, and focus on social responses targeting migrant and ethnic populations in prevention, treatment and harm reduction, as well as highlighting broader responses which support these interventions. Finally, sections 5 and 6 conclude the report with a discussion of major challenges in addressing drug-related problems among these populations and examine some possible implications for policy and practice.

You can download this document following this link>>>.

 

Key harm reduction messages for the replenishment conference

In advance of the Global Fund Seventh Replenishment Conference to be hosted by President Biden in New York on September 19, 2022, the Network of People who use Drugs (INPUD), the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) and Harm Reduction International (HRI) developed key harm reduction messages for the Global Fund Replenishment Conference, implementation of the new Global Fund Strategy and the Global Fund’s New Funding Model (NFM4) cycle.

Harm reduction investment from international donors and governments in low and middle-income (LMI) countries totalled US$131 million in 2019 – just 5% of the US$2.7 billion UNAIDS estimates is required annually by 2025 for an effective HIV response among people who inject drugs. The Global Fund is the largest donor for harm reduction, providing at least 60% of all international donor support. The outcome of the replenishment will have significant consequences for harm reduction. The protection and scale-up of harm reduction programmes in low- and middle-income countries requires a fully funded Global Fund. An underfunded Global Fund will result in service closures, a reversal of gains made in HIV prevention among people who use drugs and ultimately, lives lost.

INPUD, EHRA and HRI urge the Global Fund and the wider donor community to be proactive in protecting harm reduction within all replenishment scenarios, in implementation of the Global Fund Strategy 2023-2028 and during the NFM4 cycle. Their recommendations centre on the following five areas:

  1. Harm reduction funding must be protected from any replenishment shortfall
  2. Catalytic investments for harm reduction and key populations must continue regardless of replenishment outcome
  3. Funding for community-led responses must be prioritised within NFM4, both for harm reduction and pandemic preparedness and responses
  4. Funding for efforts to increase domestic investment in harm reduction, and broader key population programming must be increased
  5. Funding for harm reduction in crisis must be protected and prioritised

The document with full explanation of the recommendation is available following this link>>>.

 

Cannabis and Development

Millions of people have found a lifeline in the illicit cannabis economy in these past decades, but traditional cannabis farmers in the South are confronted with huge obstacles to participating in the emerging legal markets. The rapidly expanding legal cannabis markets for medical and adult use are increasingly captured by corporate businesses. Cultivation is more and more shifting from the South to the North, from small farmers to big companies, and from outdoor to indoor, with negative impacts on sustainable development goals.

The Transnational Institute (TNI) issued their first policy brief which argues that it is vital that the socio-economic needs and rights of traditional cannabis producers are not overlooked and that ‘no-one is left behind’ in this historic transition.

To read the brief, please follow this link>>>.

 

Indigenous peoples’ rights

Drug policy is often developed and implemented as if it existed outside of human rights obligations and standards. The ‘International Guidelines on Human Rights & Drug Policy’ highlight specific actions for States to affirm Indigenous peoples rights:

  • Rights to self-determination; to lands, territories, and resources; and to conservation of lands (including protections to ensure drug control measures do not undermine indigenous peoples’ rights to own, use, develop, and control *their* lands, territories, and resources)
  • Right to free, prior, and informed consent (including the need to collaborate and consult indigenous peoples’ representative institutions to seek their free, prior, and informed consent on drug control measures that may affect them or their territories)
  • Rights to enjoy culture and to profess and practice religion (which covers practices involving plants and preparations that have psychoactive effects)
  • Right to traditional medicines and health practices (which calls for a repeal of laws, policies and practices inhibiting access to controlled psychoactive substances in relation to community health and well-being)

The Guidelines, a highly useful resource, are available in English, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish following this link>>>.

 

In danger

New data from UNAIDS on the global HIV response reveals that during the last two years of COVID-19 and other global crises, progress against the HIV pandemic has faltered, resources have shrunk, and millions of lives are at risk as a result. The new report, In Danger, was launched ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada.

Over the past two and a half years, the colliding AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics, along with economic and humanitarian crises, have placed the global HIV response under increasing threat. COVID-19 and other instabilities have disrupted health services in much of the world, and millions of students have been out of school, increasing their HIV vulnerability. Low- and middle-income countries have been challenged to respond as 60% of the world’s poorest countries are in debt distress or at high risk of it, and an estimated 75 to 95 million people have been pushed into poverty, an increase without precedent. As a result, the AIDS response has faced serious pressure while communities that were already at greater risk of HIV are now even more vulnerable.

In some parts of the world and for some communities, the response to the AIDS pandemic has shown remarkable resilience in adverse times, which has helped avoid the worst outcomes. However, global progress against HIV is slowing rather than accelerating: the latest data collected by UNAIDS show that while new HIV infections fell globally last year, the drop was only 3.6% compared to 2020—the smallest annual reduction since 2016. As a result, many regions, countries and communities are left to address rising HIV infections alongside other ongoing crises.

To read the report, follow this link>>>.

 

Civil Society Demands Balanced EU Funding for Drug Policies

Civil society organisations sent an open letter to the EU Commission to criticise the new call for drug policy grant proposals that almost only focuses on law enforcement and excludes harm reduction.

Since the Drug Unit of the EU Commission was relocated to the Internal Security Department, civil society has been concerned about the continuous shifting of its approach towards a more repressive, law-and-order direction from a balanced, integrated model of drug policies.

The new call for proposals launched by the Commission is another step in this direction. Unlike the previous EC JUST drug policy grant calls, this funding mechanism almost only focuses on supply reduction. From its four objectives, three focuses on improving supply reduction, it has only one objective on drug prevention – while harm reduction is completely missing.

Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network (C-EHRN), an umbrella of European harm reduction organisations (Rights Reporter Foundation, the organisation operating this website, is a Steering Committee member) sent an open letter to Ilva Johanson, Commissioner of Home Affairs, and Fiona Sipala, the head of the Drug Unit of the EC, to address this issue.

The text of the open letter:

We write to you on behalf of Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network (C-EHRN), representing 158 civil society organisations (CSO) working in the area of harm reduction drug policy in Europe. C-EHRN is part of Foundation De Regenboog Groep and, as such, is also represented in the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs.

 Together with the undersigned networks, we would like to express our concern and disappointment with the current call of the Internal Security Grant concerning better law enforcement in the area of illicit drug trafficking. We believe this call does not reflect the principles of an evidence-based, integrated, balanced and multidisciplinary approach to the drugs phenomenon and is not in line with the Drug Strategy of the European Union. The call has a narrow focus on law enforcement interventions, with no objectives to improve complex public health and social services, including harm reduction.

 For several years, the members and organisations we work with have benefited from the EC JUST Drug Policy grants launched by the European Commission. These grants demonstrated the balanced, evidence-based and multidisciplinary approach to drug policies in accordance with the core principles of the European Union. They provided an excellent opportunity for civil society organisations working in the field of drugs to cooperate internationally and exchange knowledge and good practices.

 When the Drugs Unit was moved from the Justice Department to the Internal Security Department, civil society organisations were promised that this would not affect the balanced and multidisciplinary approach to drug policies of the EU Commission. However, the apparent shift towards law enforcement and crime prevention proves different – with social and public health aspects slipping off the agenda.

 The Internal Security call lays only limited emphasis on drug demand reduction and none at all on harm reduction. At the same time, no other EU Programme took over this responsibility, leaving drug demand and harm reduction behind, without any opportunity for EU funding and support.

 This is an extremely concerning development. EU funding has become increasingly important in recent years because of the emerging funding crisis for harm reduction, especially in the Eastern part of the European Union. Since the 2008 economic crisis, funding for harm reduction has constantly been declining in most Member States. Several essential services operated by CSOs have been closed down or curtailed due to budget cuts and the retreat of international donors.

 On top of the funding crisis, CSOs experience a shrinking space for civil society in several Member States, where governments are increasingly hostile to those organisations that receive international funding or work with marginalised groups of society. With decreasing national and local funds, direct funding from the European Commission was often the only funding opportunity to improve advocacy and innovation in the harm reduction field for many organisations. This opportunity is now lost.

 DG Home is the department within the EC responsible for developing and implementing a balanced, integrated and evidence-based EU Drug Policy. Such a balanced approach requires that funding mechanisms are available for all drug policy areas and not only for law enforcement and crime prevention programmes. We, therefore, call upon the European Commission and DG Home to reinstall the funding mechanism for drug demand and harm reduction to ensure a balanced and evidence-based drug policy also in the future.

 We look forward to your response and hope for your continued support for civil society in the area of drug policy and harm reduction.

The Drug Policy Network South East Europe is one of the signatory Networks & Organizations to this letter. Other include:

  • AIDS Action Europe [AAE]
  • EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs1
  • EU HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis and Tuberculosis Civil Society Forum
  • Eurasian Harm Reduction Association [EHRA]
  • European AIDS Treatment Group [EATG]
  • European Network of People Who Use Drugs [EuroNPUD]
  • Forum Droghe
  • Harm Reduction International [HRI]
  • Federation des Acteurs en Education en Promotion de la Sante de Guyane [AGRRR]
  • International Drug Policy Consortium [IDPC]
  • International Network of People Who Use Drugs [INPUD]
  • MAINline
  • Positive Voice
  • Red de Atencion a las Adicciones [UNAD]
  • ReShape
  • Youth Organizations for Drug Actions [YODA]

 

Maritime Balkan routes

Despite the prevalence of trade over land, South Eastern Europe (SEE) also contains more than a hundred ports and 12 container terminals, which are important entry and exit points for trade in the Adriatic, Aegean, Black and Ionian Seas, as well as along the Danube.

The report Portholes: Exploring the maritime Balkan routes, prepared by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime (GI_TOC), reveals that there is also a maritime Balkan route bringing drugs into SEE through key commercial seaports: cocaine from Latin America and heroin via Türkiye and the Middle East. Other commodities being smuggled along this route include weapons, waste, counterfeit goods and cigarettes. In addition, it provides a glimpse of smuggling along the Danube.

The case studies, which feature nine of the region’s commercial ports, are a central element of this report. These ports were chosen to provide an overview of different types of ports (based on size, ownership, location and history of seizures) and to assess their vulnerability to organized crime.

The report is available following this link>>>.

 

 

Jubilee Support. Don’t Punish campaign

Following a good result in coordination of the campaigns since 2017, the International Drug Policy Consortium and The Drug Policy Network South East Europe agreed on continuing cooperation on organising the campaign in 2022.

The 10th Global Day of Action was a resounding success and brought into sharp relief our movement’s commitment to bring about positive change with people at the centre! For a decade, campaigners in all corners of the world have mobilised decisively to counter the harmful ‘war on drugs’ and the many systems of violence and neglect at its heart, and to build sustainable alternatives based on harm reduction and decriminalisation.

Through hundreds of creative, collaborative and impactful activities, campaigners have put harm reduction, decriminalisation and community engagement firmly on local, regional and national agendas. All while growing people power to ensure no one is left behind.

The Support. Don’t Punish 2022 campaign was held in all countries of South East Europe. It had

The Support. Don’t Punish activities were organised by, or in collaboration with, people who use drugs, people living with HIV, women, LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, young people, families of incarcerated people, and a long etcetera.

The DPNSEE staff collected and published articles alongside with photos of the involved organisations in the Network during the campaign on Internet page www.dpnsee.org and social media FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

The report from the campaign is available following this link>>>.