The Western Balkans is a crossroads for the trafficking of many illicit commodities, and it is a geographical hub for the smuggling of migrants who are trying to enter Western Europe.
The Global initiative against transnational organised crime (GI-TOC) published a new report: “Spot Prices: Analysing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans“.
It provides a detailed overview of the prices and routes for drugs and migrants being smuggled through the Western Balkans and sheds light on the size of the profits generated and where the money is laundered.
This report contains a wealth of information gathered through field research and interviews carried out with current and former law enforcement officials, investigative journalists, researchers, local officials, migrants, drug users, and civil society representatives in the region.
There are a lot of interesting maps and visual presentations about migrant smuggling, drug trafficking and money laundering. I hope you will enjoy it reading.
The EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) launched today the European Web Survey on Drugs 2021. Targeted at people, aged 18 and over, who have used drugs, the survey aims to improve understanding of patterns of drug use in Europe and help shape future drug policies and interventions.
The voluntary, anonymous survey – one of the agency’s targeted ‘leading-edge’ monitoring methods – will run this year in 31 countries and 28 languages. As in previous years, it will be promoted nationally by the Reitox focal points and their partners, as well as through targeted social media advertisements.
In 2016, the first European Web Survey on Drugs was launched. It ran in 16 countries and more than 80 000 people participated. In 2021, this survey will run in over 30 EU and neighbouring countries!
New to this year’s round is the participation of the agency’s partners from the Western Balkans and the European Neighbourhood Policy area through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA7) and EU4Monitoring Drugs (EU4MD) projects.
The new questionnaire, which will run for six weeks, is structured in modules on: socio-demographics, drug using patterns, access to treatment, access to drugs (amounts usually bought and prices paid) and how COVID-19 has affected patterns of drug use. Its findings will contribute to the emerging knowledge base on drug-using practices in Europe and on the quantities of drugs used. This will help enhance market size estimates at national and European level and contribute to policy development more widely.
As the space for civil society appears to be shrinking in the Western Balkans, this report looks at organized crime and corruption in the region from a civil society perspective. It aims to give an overview of how civil society organizations in the Western Balkans deal with issues related to organized crime and corruption and highlights their main activities and concerns.
The GI-TOC’s experience of engaging with community actors all over the world has shown that individuals and community groups are able to build their individual and collective capacity to respond to and recover from organized crime. This report shows that courageous and committed CSOs across the Western Balkans are doing the same, but would benefit from further support to help strengthen communities’ resilience.
More about the report is available from this video
GI TOC shall present the report at the webinar scheduled for Friday 19 Mar 2021 at 11 AM (CET). Interpretation to Albanian, Macedonian, and Bosnian-Montenegrin-Serbian will be available during the event.
This webinar will draw together insights from civil society actors from across the Western Balkans working on organized crime and corruption and identify good practices across the region. During the 90 minute discussion we will also explore how these organizations’ resilience can be strengthened and how CSOs themselves can contribute to strengthening resilience in their communities and across the region.
The Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) registered the main waves of COVID-19 infections later than most of the EU countries, but containment strategies were implemented at the same time and with equal force as in the rest of Europe.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published Trendspotter briefing: Impact of COVID-19 on drug use and drug services in Western Balkans. This report provides the main results of studies conducted using the trendspotter methodology to explore the impact of the pandemic and associated measures on drug services and people who use drugs in the Western Balkan region.
DPNSEE and our member organisations contributed to the report with information and case studies from the ground.
The main findings are listed below.
Use of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and cocaine was reported to have increased in some subpopulations of people who use drugs. Use of benzodiazepines in combination with opioids was among the common risk behaviours observed during the first weeks of lockdown.
A number of harms were observed among marginalised and injecting drug users, who in some cases lacked resources to satisfy basic needs. Mental health problems were reported among both recreational and problem drug users.
The provision of drug treatment was reduced during the first weeks of the pandemic, affecting mainly new admissions and services provided face to face.
The number of people entering treatment declined between March and May 2020 in almost all countries in the Western Balkan region.
Opioid substitution treatment (OST) centres and harm reduction services mainly remained operational, although under a restricted regime.
The main adaptations to the new situation included use of telemedicine and a relaxation of OST distribution schemes.
Personal protection measures became standard in all treatment and harm reduction facilities, and protective equipment was distributed to clients whenever possible.
The crisis highlighted the fragile position of some service providers and the reliance of harm reduction services on the support of international donors.
While the Western Balkans is often portrayed as a hotspot of illicit activity, the region is a relatively small market for organized crime. The big money is made elsewhere. This report shows why and how groups from the Western Balkans have become engaged in organized crime abroad, particularly in South Africa, Turkey, Australia as well as in some countries of Latin America and Western Europe.
The report shows that criminal groups from the Western Balkans operating abroad are modern, dynamic and entrepreneurial. They have demonstrated an ability to adapt and innovate and use technology to their advantage: for example, using encrypted forms of communication; exploring new routes and means of trafficking, such as ‘narco-jets’; and laundering their money through cryptocurrencies, offshore havens and into their home countries.
The report suggests that there is not a ‘Balkan Cartel’ per se, although groups from the region sometimes work with each other, and there are also instances of multi-ethnic groups.
The report calls for more effective law enforcement cooperation, tracking and seizing of assets, and the sharing of information, not least since perpetrators tend to use multiple identities. It also stresses the need to reduce demand for the goods and services provided by criminal groups from the Western Balkans.
To read the Report in various languages follow these links
The EMCDDA has initiated a project investigating the impact of COVID-19 on people who use drugs, drug markets and challenges for drug service provision in the Western Balkans.
The project is conducted using an adapted version of the Trendspotter methodology with the objective to increase our understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic and national containment measures on patterns of drug use, emerging harms and challenges and adaptations of drug service providers in the Western Balkan region, as well as identify potential national best practices in responding to this public health challenge. We take a step-wise approach with the first investigation focusing on service provision, followed by drug use patterns and risks and security issues.
The investigation has multiple components – namely expert surveys and facilitated groups.
In the second step, EMCDDA will be approaching regional experts from drug services and informed about service provision (OST, needle exchange programmes, harm reduction, treatment, drug services in prisons) in order to get a more in-depth understanding of the developments via facilitated groups.
The University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL) and the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) will be joining forces once again next summer to hold the ninth European drugs summer school (EDSS) on ‘Illicit drugs in Europe: demand, supply and public policies’. This two-week course will take place in the Portuguese capital from 29 June to 10 July 2020.
Professionals, academics and experts from the Western Balkan region* will have an opportunity to participate in the EDSS this year, thanks to three bursaries being offered through the EMCDDA Instrument of Pre-accession Assistance 7 project (IPA7), which kicked off in July 2019. The aim of the three-year project, running until June 2022, is to ensure that the six IPA beneficiaries (1) are able to participate effectively in the activities of the EMCDDA and the Reitox network upon EU accession.
The bursaries will cover flights and EDSS fees.
The deadline for applications is 26 February 2020 and successful candidates will be notified by 9 March 2020.
Every year in autumn, The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) organises Reitox meeting – the European information network on drugs and drug addiction. The 8th Extended Reitox network meeting was held on 12 November in the EMCDDA premises in Lisbon, Portugal. It brought together representatives from circa 50 countries, including: the Heads of the 30 Reitox national focal points from the 28 EU Member States, Norway and Turkey; representatives from the 6 Western Balkan countries covered by the European Instrument for Pre-Accession Technical assistance project (IPA7) and representatives from 15 European Neighbouring Policy area countries.
This year’s meeting will be dedicated to the topic ‘New issues for monitoring’. The agenda included issues like Drug policy debates: how routine monitoring data used?, Introduction on new proposal of the UNODC Annual Reports Questionnaire (ARQ) and Cannabis: latest developments.
During the session on Prevention of infectious diseases, DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević presented Situation in the Western Balkan countries. Besides presenting the Network and briefly describing the type of data that are available to us, a detailed view on the situation in the Western Balkan countries was given including prevalence of HIV, HCV, HBV among people who inject drugs, provision of harm reduction services and access to treatment, barriers and challenges and relevant policies in the region.
Participation in the Reitox meeting was an excellent opportunity to present the potential of the Network for partnership and discuss modalities for further cooperation with EMCDDA and national drug agencies
Rather than focusing on illicit markets, flows of commodities or particular criminal groups, this report looks at places of interest: hotspots of organized crime in the Western Balkans. It looks at the characteristics of these hotspots, then provides a granular analysis of particular border crossings, intersections or regions of vulnerability. What makes these places particularly vulnerable? Why are they attractive to criminals? After discussing these questions, the report connects the dots between these locations to identify possible links and patterns that tell us more about the geography of crime in the region.
To contextualize these organized-crime hotspots, the report provides an overview of the current situation in the Western Balkans, as well as some general information on the main illicit flows. It then looks at hotspots close to border or (internal) boundary crossings.
The other main section of the report focuses on major intersections of organized crime in the Western Balkans – mostly bigger cities (particularly capitals), coastal towns and places where major highways intersect. Maps are provided to show the hotspots as well as key traffic arteries. Amid these assessments, the report takes a deeper dive into vulnerable locations, such as Sarajevo, three ports along the Montenegrin coast, northern Kosovo as well as the triangular region where North Macedonia meets south Serbia and Kosovo.
One key observation of this report, which is important to highlight upfront, is that illicit flows through ports, cities and border crossings in the Western Balkans are enabled by a political economy of crime that is deeply entrenched in most countries of the region. The report therefore takes a look at the ecosystem of crime that creates an environment in which illicit activity can flourish. It concludes with a prognosis of potential future hotspots of crime.