The first session of theWorking group 4 (Chapter 24) on the topic “Waiting for FRONTEX – border security through the prism of mixed migration flows” took place on 18 December 2019 in the Club of Deputies in Skopje. This debate is part of a second cycle of dialogues within the National Convention on EU in the Republic of Northern Macedonia, a process inspired by the Slovak experience with the EU, which has so far resulted in over 200 recommendations in various fields. The session was attended by Magdalena Nestorovska, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Interior, the Director of the Public Security Bureau Sasho Tasevski, the professor of the Faculty for security studies in Bitola Trpe Stojanovski, OSCE Migration and Refugee Advisor Maria de Benito Rodrigues, the liaison officer for the Balkans in FRONTEX Vesna Marinkovic, the head of the Border Security Unit Nikola Mirchevski, the professors Marina Mitrevska from UKIM and Aleksandar Nacev from European University, Andrej Lepavcov, diplomat from the MFA and other experts, members of European Movement of Macedonia and students.
The general message of the debate was that the migrant Pandora’s Box is reopening, that Republic of North Macedonia needs international cooperation to deal with it and that the new status agreement with FRONTEX will be crucial if it will be ratified in 2020, as it will establish new higher level of cooperation with the country. During the debate the numbers were presented about the migrant flows last years, about the new trends, the new routes, the main problems and the proposals how to deal with this phenomenon. According to the presentations of the participants, the number of the irregular attempts to cross the Macedonian border in 2018 increased significantly compared with the previous one, or more precisely -it doubled.
According to data provided by OSCE Migration and Refugee Advisor, Maria de Benito Rodrigues, from January to November 2019 there were 19,658 attempts for illegal crossings in Macedonia, or over 100percent increase compared to 2017, when only 7,808 were registered, and a year earlier just 2.430. What is interesting is that there is a sort of ‘Brexit migrant’ phenomenon, with nationals of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India increasingly trying to enter UK before it leaves the EU.
As Rodrigues said, over half of the attempts to cross our border illegally go to Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians, which has not been the case so far. The second growing group of migrants comes from the MAGREB countries (Morocco, Algeria and Eritrea) who, because of the economic reasons and to avoid strong Mediterranean control,cross the Balkans in order to go in Europe. The number of Afghans trying to cross the border illegally has increased dramatically, even drastically compared to those coming from Syria – 3,633 vs. 240 from Syria. Even 322 of them, she stressed, applied for asylum.
“There are migrants who try to cross the border 15 times illegally and seek help from us afterwards. Their number has increased dramatically, said Sandra Tomovska from the Red Cross of Skopje”, who is permanently working in the migrant camps in this region with her mobile team.”The problem with migrants is reopening in time when international community’s attention has shifted to other areas and we have limited resources,” she said, noting that despite the early winter, November was turbulent, as they took care for more migrants than in 2017.
“These processes will not stop,” said Saso Tasevski, director of the Public Security Bureau in charge of oversight and internal border management. According to him, taught by the experience of 2015, the issue has been given priority and the decision to declare crisis situation is prolonged constantly. In the same time, he said, the technological equipment of the police is improved and international cooperationenhanced, mentioning as big success the international operation at the southern border with the participation of eight countries, seven of them EU.
“The illegal migration will continue and will last. The resources that we are spending are significant, human and financial, and having in mind that it has trans-national character, they exceed ours national capacities”, he stressed, pointing practically how important is the cooperation with the other countries and with the international factors, as EU, FRONTEX, IOM and UNHCR.
Vesna Marinkovic, FRONTEX’s regional liaison officer for the Western Balkans, said that new problem was created by Serbia’s visa-free regime for Iranian citizens and by the decision of Turkeyto give the same to the citizens of some African countries, especially in MAGREB. According to her estimations, the migrant crisis in 2015 was humanitarian while in 2019 it was mostly economic, what is the reason that most of the migrants are young. She announced the signing of the new FRONTEX status agreement with our country for 2020, which will allow additional activities of this EU border control agency on our territory and at the border to Albania and Serbia. She mentioned also that from 2027 FRONTEX will be straightened as it will have border guard composed by 10.000 people sent by member countries of EU.
While all interlocutors at the hearing cited cooperation with FRONTEX as crucial in dealing with refugees, problems were also identified, including mistrust of some of its policies. In the open debate after the presentations, Stojce Choklevski from the Ministry of Interior noted that the fingerprinting system in Macedonia is not compatible with that in EU, either in the format (ours is like in the US security services and INTERPOL), either in the purpose, since the European refers to asylum seekers, and ours is used to identify migrants.
– FRONTEX imposes the idea of establishing so-called BALKANDAC, following the EURODAC template, a fingerprint database in EU. This data base is accepted by the countries in the region, but it does not offer an opportunity for us to access it. This is a trap for us because countries in EU will know which migrants were registered here and will return them, and we will not be able to return them to Greece. There is no bad intention in this, but it is still evident that the EU is treating us in a paternalistic way, remarked Choklevski.
Sandra Tomovska pointed out that five years since the great migrant crisis,we have become experts in dealing with migrants, yet some problems remain unresolved, such as the provision of interpreters and women police officers. The issue of readmission was also raised, highlighting that key obstacles are the identification of migrants, the lack or non-cooperation of the diplomatic missions, the costs for their return and other issues .In this context, FRONTEX representative Marinkovic pointed out that the EU also faces the same, plus additional problems, as abuse of asylum procedures and the free movement of migrants in the Union, adding that to return them home cost between 5,000 and 20,000 euros for one migrant. She stressed that FRONTEX could not participate in joint operations for the return of migrants from the Balkans.
Trpe Stojanovski from the University for security studies in Bitola presented the last data about the migrant flows in EU mentioning that there were 190.930 refusals of entry (up 4%) in 2018,about 148.121 effective returns by member states (down 5%),13.728 returns coordinated or organized by FRONTEX (down 3%) and 10.642 detections of smugglers (up 4%).
“In 2018, the number of detections of illegal border crossings reached its lowest level in five years, but migratory pressure remained relatively high at the EU’s external borders”, Stojanovski said quoting the EU statistics. According to him, the total figure fell 27% from the previous year (2017) to 150.114, and was 92% below the peak of the migratory in 2015. In the same time, the Western Mediterranean became the most frequently used route into Europe, but the Western Balkans also continued to be transited by irregular migrants trying to reach Western Europe from Turkey. Speaking about North Macedonia he noted that there is fragmentation of tasks between the institutions dealing with migration and that there are still uncertainties on the scope and structure of migration flows. “The inconsistent registrationof migrants apprehended in irregular movements prevents regular and adequate protection-sensitive profiling and the referral to national protection mechanisms”, said Stojanovski quoting the EU report for our country. The conclusion was that with the assistance of the army and deployment of guest officers from EU MS effective control at the southern border has been ensured.But Stojanovski estimated that the number of migrants transiting the country in 2018 is considered to be much higher than official figuresand was about 32.500 migrants.
Aleksandar Nacev from the European University opened up the problem of terrorism and said that radicalized Europeans had come back unnoticed using fictitious passports and the influx of migrants. According to him it was possible because of the insufficient information sharing between countries in Europe.
Nikola Mirchevski, Head of the Border Security Unit, assessed that border management is much more than border control and that it requires the involvement of all institutions, mentioning the cooperation even with the Ministries of Agriculture. In addition to the benefits from declared crisis situation in 2015, he listed mixed border patrols, established contact centres with all neighbouring countries, regional initiatives and video conferences on a regular basis with the EC, for exchange of analysis and assessments.According to him, the cooperation with FRONTEX this year was improved but what is still missing is the possibility for its preventive deployment on our territory.In general he supported the decision to prolong again the crisis situation in the country in order to involve the Army in the efforts for border management.
Marina Mitrevska, professor in the State University UKIM, warned that the last statement of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her country will open the door for one million high qualified workers from abroad is increasing the chances for new migrant flow from economic reasons. He also informed that the migrant centres in Turkey and Greece are overcrowdedso we should expect more illegal crossings in the next months.
Magdalena Nestorovska, as co-chairman in the National Convention, stressed that the name of the participants and the big interest for the debate speaks that choosing this issue for debate was good decision. She thanked to the Slovak ambassador for helping to organise these debates that enters the third year. An organized state should all times provide a satisfactory level of border protection against illegal immigration, human trafficking and other illicit means and deviant phenomena that occur if your border is porous, she said.
Milena Gjurovska, Chairperson of the National Convention, recalled that these sessions dealt with topics of crucial importance to Chapter 24, which provided a solid capital for advancing accession negotiations. The National Convention represents the first systematic civil approach that operates at the present moment in five chapters, she said, adding that the latest is the environmental chapter.