A report published by Statewatch and Heinrich Böll Stiftung has revealed that the European interior ministers signed a secret joint statement last year that committed EU/Schengen Area countries to increase financial as well as material support for deportations from the Balkans.
According to Statewatch, the plan of establishing a “Regional Return Mechanism” was signed by ministers from Western Balkan states, over half of the EU member states, the French Presidency of the EU Council, and Switzerland, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
By signing such a mechanism, the ministers committed to intensifying the cooperation between the member states in the field of returns, especially from the Western Balkans.
Moreover, the ministers also highlighted the importance of returns of third-country nationals and said that the member states would continue cooperating with origin and transit countries to carry out returns as smoothly as possible.
Statewatch explains that the commitments of the signing countries are reflected in the Commission’s recent plan to address migration challenges in the Western Balkanswhich promises to strengthen the migration and border management cooperation in the EU.
Nonetheless, the same notes that the plan does not mention the Return Partnerships of the Regional Return Mechanism approved in February.
The actions that have been promised by ministers in the statement issued in the February of last year are to be implemented in the Joint Coordination Platform and it is expected for the return rates to increase.
Earlier in December 2022, the Commission said that the Western Balkans need to immediately address common migration challenges and disclosed 20 operational measures structured along five pillars aimed to help the current situation in the region.
The Commission said that the measures aim to strengthen border management along the Western Balkan route, speed up asylum procedures, support reception capacity, fight migrant smuggling, strengthen readmission cooperation between countries, and achieve alignment on visa policy.
The Western Balkan route continues to remain one of the routes in the continent, registering the highest number of illegal border crossings.
Data provided by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, show that the Western Balkan route remained one of the most active in February 2023, with 8,384 registered illegal border crossings.
The other routes registered a high number of illegal border crossings too. The Central Mediterranean saw the highest number of illegal border crossings in February 2023 – a total of 11,951 illegal border crossings, marking a 118 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.