In exploring the landscape of border management in the Southeast Europe -Mediterranean region, there is a need to look beyond the challenges associated with the physical control over external borders and the flow of goods and persons through ports of entry, and also examine the mitigation of cross-border threats including criminal activity and terrorism.
Though the broader subregion is supported in the managing and safeguarding of internal and external borders by national, regional as well as international mechanisms, it continues to be challenged by a number of cross-border threats. The region remains a transit route for the movement or trafficking of people, narcotics, illicit funds, small arms and light weapons (SALW), and other contraband goods from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East to Europe. In support of these activities, the region has long been used as a critical cross-point for criminal networks and organizations that run well-established trafficking and smuggling operations throughout the Mediterranean. These organized criminal groups benefit from and exploit remote and often porous land and maritime borders, deficiencies in law enforcement capacities, and gaps in inter-agency and cross-border coordination. Furthermore, the various trafficking and smuggling activities do not exist in isolation; instead, they generate an illicit economy where the activities and the criminal actors and organizations become strategically interconnected. Of concern is the potential for overlap and intersection between criminal and terrorist actors in the region.
The broader subregion has also been confronted with large flows of refugees and asylum seekers from other parts of the world, particularly conflict zones, through a variety of irregular land and maritime routes. These irregular migration flows are intricately intertwined and supported by criminal syndicates and enterprises . While it is important to note that migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are more likely to be the victims of violent extremism than perpetrators, there is nevertheless the potential for exploitation of large flows of asylum seekers and migrants by foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and their networks. Indeed, as large volumes of irregular migrants, including those seeking asylum, continue to transit through the subregion, this poses an immense challenge to States’ efforts for border management and identification of potential security threats, including the cross-border movement of FTFs. In June 2020, EU member states adopted council conclusions on enhancing cooperation with Western Balkans partners in the field of migration and security, maintaining the focus on terrorism as one of the primary security issues in the region (along with organized crime). The EU Council Conclusions included recognition of “the importance of preventing and countering terrorism and extremism, including the financing, radicalization and return of foreign terrorist fighters” and expressed concerns “regarding the possible attempts by returning FTFs to enter European territory through the use of migrant smuggling networks active in the region of South East Europe .”
In the process of differentiating between migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees and FTFs, there are a number of human rights concerns that must be taken into account, including respect of the principle of nonrefoulement; whether asylum seekers are provided the means to file an application and duly have their claims heard; whether migrants found at risk at borders are promptly identified, assisted, and referred to appropriate services; and whether standards of detention or restrictions duly comply with international human rights standards. Other human rights concerns include whether the nondiscrimination principle is respected vis-à-vis the profiling process of FTFs, based on prohibited grounds, particularly those based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, and/or national origin. Further, the cross-border sharing of data to identify and intercept alleged FTFs may infringe on the rights to privacy, due process, and presumption of innocence.
The subregion itself is not only a “transit” region for goods and people but also faces economic and social challenges rendering it vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment. These challenges include high unemployment levels, historical traumas and continuing ethnic grievances, high index of corruption, and a lack of trust in government and state institutions. Estimates from the Western Balkans Extremism Research Forum indicate that around 1,000 persons from Southeastern Europe traveled to Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic between the end of 2012 and 2017, with the majority originating from Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and North Macedonia.
The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center (UNCCT) within the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), under the framework of its global Border Security Management (BSM) Programme, supports Member States to strengthen border security and management capacities to counter terrorism, by stemming the flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) across land, air, and maritime borders, as well as preventing the cross-border movement of illicit cargo and related transnational crimes, including through enhanced inter-agency and international cooperation. At the same time, the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions repeatedly emphasize that the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law is essential to and that effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but rather are complementary and mutually reinforcing.
This webinar, focusing on ‘Border Challenges in the Southeast Europe-Mediterranean Region in the Context of Counter-Terrorism and Related Transnational Organized Crime’, aims to virtually delve into the region-specific context and explore threat landscapes, border security and management challenges, and discuss response measures and mechanisms related to countering terrorism and transnational organized crime. The virtual discussions will include presentations from key experts from the region, as well as incorporating the international perspective, and will touch on current threats, the nexus between transnational organized crime and terrorism, main gaps and challenges for border management, and the need for border security strategies, plans of action, and processes that incorporate counter-terrorism components as well as crisis and risk management mechanisms within the current pandemic context.
The webinar will bring together counter-terrorism coordinators, border and law enforcement experts and practitioners, as well as international experts from relevant international, regional and sub-regional organizations to share their experience and ideas for addressing the existing challenges.
OCTOBER 14th, 2020 09.30 EST / 14.30 UK / 15.30 CET
Opening Remarks: Mr. Rocco Messina, Head, Border Security and Management (BSM) Unit, United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT)
Moderator: Ms. Margherita Natali, Border Security and Management (BSM) Unit, United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT)
SESSION 1: REGIONAL THREAT LANDSCAPE
- Mr. Bill WOOD, Law Enforcement and Border Control Coordinator for the Balkans, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
- Ms. Kamila KRAUSKOPFOVA, Counter-Terrorism Directorate, INTERPOL
- Mr. Daniel DAMJANOVIC, Counter-Terrorism Directorate, INTERPOL
SESSION 2: BORDER SECURITY AND MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
- Ms. Christine BRADLEY, Border Security and Management (BSM) Programme, United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT)
- Mr. Goran STOJKOVSKI, Transnational Threats Department, OSCE
SESSION 3: GLOBAL, REGIONAL, SUB-REGIONAL AND NATIONAL
- Mr. Pawel SLIWINSKI, International Cooperation Unit, FRONTEX
- Mr. Alex TTARIS, UK Counter Terrorism Coordinator for the Balkans
Q & A