Commissioner Olivér VÁRHELYI in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Migration – Signature ceremony

Dear Minister Cikotić,

Dear Ms. Lungarotti,

Thank you for receiving me today to witness the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the IOM on voluntary and forced returns.

Let me first emphasize and praise the considerable and essential work done, under your leadership Minister Cikotić in addressing irregular migration in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We appreciate your efforts.

Given the current tense migration situation, we need Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue to work on this path and to step up joint actions to keep the situation under control.

Once again, the Western Balkans are facing and increasing of illegal migratory pressure, causing severe challenges in the region’s security, stability, and prosperity.

We must stop it. We must act together. We must act in a coordinated manner.

We need robust and joint actions to crack down smuggling networks and to fight against organized crime networks.

We must reinforce border protection therefore in its strongest sense. It must be clear that the EU only welcomes people through safe and legal routes. The door is not open for illegal entry. So those, who do not qualify to stay, will have to be returned without delay.

It must be clear that we will protect the integrity of our asylum system. Growing asylum abuse and fake asylum claims are unacceptable.

In this context, it is imperative to redouble our efforts at political and operational levels, to live up to commitments, and to deliver action on the ground with real impact.

That’s why we are rebalancing and shifting our priorities and action, with an increased focus on anti-smuggling, border protection, and returns. 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.

Our support has 4 components.

First – we have just adopted a strategic package of EUR 30 million to help the region fighting the smuggling and organised crime groups.

Second – there is an assistance package of EUR 40 million to strengthen border protection capacities. Out of this package, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been entitled to EUR 6.4 million of support only this year. Based on the requests of your authorities, we are delivering equipment for border protection and surveillance like drones, thermal cameras, video surveillance systems, monitoring vehicles and communication networks.

Third – 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.

Finally – 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 of origin. Again, we will replicate this project in other countries of the region.

Rest assured that Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans can keep counting on us.

So let’s continue and deliver together.

I want to thank again the IOM, the Ministers for the work they are doing and I do hope to see they are signing this agreement. Thank you!