Commissioner Várhelyi underlines EU support to address irregular migration in Bosnia and Herzegovina

EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi attended the event to mark the signing of a EUR 500.000 worth Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on stepping up voluntary and non-voluntary returns.

During the signing ceremony, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement underlined the EU’s commitment to supporting BiH in addressing the increase in irregular migration flows across the Western Balkans region.

On 12 October, the Commission recommended candidate status for BiH on the understanding that certain steps will be taken. One of these steps is for BiH to decisively advance work to ensure effective coordination, at all levels, of border and migration management and the functioning of the asylum system.

As the illegal migratory pressure is increasing in the Western Balkans, the European Union is redoubling its efforts at the political and operational level to stem illegal migration by cracking down on smuggling, fighting against organized crime networks, and reinforcing border protection. The aim is to return those who are not eligible to stay.

In this context, the European Commission understands and acknowledges the immense challenge the Western Balkans, and in particular, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces. Therefore, in addition to the 170 million euros already adopted for 2021-22 projects, the European Commission decided to increase the funding for migration for the Western Balkans by 60% to more than EUR 350 million by 2024.

As a critical area of increased engagement, the EU is providing a new EUR 40 million border protection package for the Western Balkans. Out of this package, EUR 6.4 million of support will be provided to BiH in 2022. Through this new project, the EU is providing equipment for border protection and surveillance, like drones, thermal cameras, video surveillance systems, monitoring vehicles, and communication networks. Also, the EU will support training the border police officers and deploying extra police officers, including at the borders.

In addition, the EU has recently signed a contract with IOM for EUR 500.000 on stepping up voluntary and non-voluntary returns from Bosnia and Herzegovina, in line with EU and international standards, for those not eligible to stay.

“Once again, the Western Balkans are facing increasing illegal migratory pressure, causing a severe challenge to the region’s security, stability, and prosperity. To this end, we will increase our funding to the Western Balkans by 60% to more than EUR 350 million by 2024. The European Union has already adopted projects for EUR 170 million in the last two years. In this framework, I am announcing today a new 500.000 euros pilot project with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the IOM to support voluntary and forced returns. This project will strengthen the capacity for returns of migrants who do not qualify for international protection and will be returned directly from the region to the countries of origin. These new arrangements will be replicated in other countries of the region, too. Moreover, I am announcing today another 500.000 euros pilot project for the Lipa camp. We need to keep our detention facilities in Lipa and the region under control, meaning that the fake asylum-seekers must be detained until they return to their countries“, said Commissioner Várhelyi.

“Since the establishment of the migrant route through the territory of our country, the EU has been a key partner that has provided the biggest financial support to the institutions of BiH in the migration management. On the other hand, the institutions of BiH contributed to the suppression of illegal migration and increased safety throughout the Europe by improving the migration management process. The BiH Ministry of Security, together with its partners, is still committed to strengthening the capacities of the BiH Border Police and the Foreign Affairs Service so that they can adequately counter illegal migration, protect and control the BiH’s borders and secure the return of illegal migrants to their countries of origin. Along with all other measures taken at the local and regional levels, we hope that this will maintain the current favorable migrant situation in BiH”, said Selmo Cikotic, BiH Minister of Security.