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Delegation of EU to MK Evropsko dvizenje Sfpa

12 session of Working group 4 – Justice, Freedom and Security (Chapter 24) on topic: “The New EU Migration and Asylum architecture and its reflection on North Macedonia and the Western Balkans”

On September 4th, 2023, European Movement North Macedonia organized the twelfth session of the National Convention for the European Union in North Macedonia of Working Group 4 – Justice, Freedom and Security (Chapter 24) on the topic “The New EU Migration and Asylum Architecture and its Reflection on North Macedonia and the Western Balkans”, which was attended by representatives of the Delegation of the European Union, Embassies, representatives of the OSCE, ICMPD, MARRI, IOM and other domestic and international organizations, as well as external and domestic experts on this topic and representatives of state institutions.

The Minister of the Interior, Oliver Spasovski, said that in order to successfully manage migration and asylum, we need to reform the capacities and legislation together with the countries of the Western Balkans, but that above all, we need to reform our minds because many things depend only on us.

He pointed out that North Macedonia is subject to regular and irregular migrations due to its geographical location and that is exactly why we must remain committed to changing the approach of managing the routes through the Western Balkans caused by the great refugee crisis that began in 2015 and which brought us over 800,000 migrants, as well as the conflict caused by Russia and economic pressures and insecurity.

The reports of the European Commission confirm that the national legislation in this area is substantially aligned with the EU standards, but also that there is also a need for increased efforts for implementation, and in some aspects, harmonization of the legislation.

“Despite all the efforts of the state, migration cannot be stopped, only shaped. This crisis cannot be solved neither here nor in the EU, but it should be stopped in the countries where the conflicts originate. The European Commission presented a new action plan for the Western Balkans for the return of migrants from countries in the region to their countries of origin, which provides for 20 measures such as border security, fast asylum procedures, readmission, etc. with a unified and comprehensive approach, which represents the new architecture for dealing with security issues related to migration and asylum for the whole of Europe”, said Minister Spasovski, adding that “dealing with illegal migration is a phenomenon that will continue as one of the main security challenges”.

According to Spasovski, the key point for the entry of migrants into our country is the southern border, from where around 6,000 illegal attempts were prevented last year alone. He also announced that it is necessary to dedicate ourselves to creating conditions for the implementation of the new EU migration policy represented in the preparation of the Migration and Asylum Pact because the new EU directives will be adopted in this area, the implementation of which will be one from the criteria for joining the EU.

Among the numerous experts in the field of security and dealing with the problems caused by migration, university professors, representatives of the civil sector, international organizations, the Ministry of the Interior, and members of the European Movement, migrant issues were also discussed by the Spanish ambassador, José Luis Lozano Garcia, who said that Spain, as the current chairman of the EU, is seriously committed to this topic.

“For Spain, migrations are not surprising, and have been treated as a priority issue for some time,” he said.

García mentioned the migration and asylum pact, which will play a big role in dealing with this problem. According to him, in order to find a solution fit for everyone, every country and institution needs to be ready to compromise, so that we can achieve balance and flexibility between solidarity and responsibility. The most important thing for Spain is to invest in preventive measures and ensure that the political and technical parts are aligned.

“A preventive approach is essential to managing the transition of migrants. The EU member states are aware that the countries of the Western Balkans, due to their geographical position, play a key role in dealing with migrant challenges,” said the Spanish ambassador.

Concluding his address, the ambassador also referred to the dialogue that will be held on October 26 and 27 in Skopje, organized and coordinated by Spain and the Spanish Presidency of the European Council, which aims to build capacities in the Macedonian institutions and help in the Macedonian path towards European integration process.

The President of the European Movement in Italy, Pier Virgilio Dastoli, otherwise an advisor to the European Commission and a political advisor to the Spinelli Group, as well as a former director of the European Commission’s representation in Italy, spoke next and pointed out Italy’s new initiatives regarding the migration crisis in an online address. He expressed hope that the EU will prepare new proposals to deal with the crisis, because although it seems that it is no longer as urgent as in the past, it is still a long-term problem that needs to be solved.

“Italy fully supports creating solidarity between countries and I think it is important to recognize the difference between economic and ordinary migrants, who pass with and without documents”, said Dastoli and added that in terms of migrant policies, it is clear that Macedonia stands out from other candidate countries because of its standards and rules that overlap with those of Europe.

Snezhana Trajanovska, the director of the Regional Center MARRI, emphasized that the topic was chosen at the best time, and explained that MARRI has established cooperation with the relevant regional mechanisms, as well as with international organizations that all together aim to implement synchronized activities in the field of migration and asylum. Trajanovska announced their involvement in the project dedicated to strengthening the fight against smuggling people, a project that will work in this area.

According to her, the activities of this center can significantly impact the countries in the region to strengthen and activate the policies on migration and asylum of the Union, and although this can’t be a final solution, we still shouldn’t be discouraged, and instead, focus on strengthening capacities in all institutions where it’s needed.  

During the session, among other things, the questions of strengthening border management where the routes are were also discussed, as well as issues of asylum and support procedures, illegal migration and the fight against migrant smuggling, readmission, processes related to economic migration in the country, the emigration of a significant part of the population and other issues.

The coordinator of the National Convention on the EU (NCEU-MK), otherwise a university professor, and president of the European Movement in North Macedonia, Mileva Gjurovska, concluded that this, as well as the previous 56 debates held on topics related to the process of European integration, contribute to a significant extent for the successful preparation of North Macedonia’s capacities for the upcoming negotiation process with the EU.

According to her, the Republic of North Macedonia and other countries from the Western Balkans, facing large waves of migrants during the last decade, and also before, have shown readiness to align activities and build a common approach in dealing with the migrations. The large migrant waves confirmed the need for a coordinated approach and continuous cooperation of all European countries. The integration of the states of the Western Balkans into the security architecture is especially significant considering the fact that through the so-called Balkan route, hundreds of thousands of migrants used to pass through until recently, and today thousands of migrants whose destination is Europe are still crossing illegally.

“Today’s topic of migration issues is a part of the fundamental questions of Cluster 1, which is the foundation of the negotiation framework, as the course of negotiations for five important chapters on which European values are based will depend on it”, concluded Gjurovska.

Co-chair Magdalena Nestorovska, State Secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, indicated the need to create national capacities for the implementation of the rules in accordance with the migration and asylum pact from the Union and added that there is still an uneven distribution of responsibility for these issues in the country.

Andrej Lepavcov, Ambassador, President of the Pan-European Union of Macedonia, in the role of co-chairman, expressed the need for action plans to be adapted to the needs of the state, refusing their generalization.

In the expert part of the session, Trpe Stojanovski, NCEU-MK expert, and Professor of the Faculty of Security, UKLO – Bitola, addressed the abuse and exploitation of the migrant crisis by criminal groups, and perceived the need to improve the digital skills in Macedonian institutions.

In his expert analysis, Sasho Smilevski, Assistant Director of the Department for Border Affairs and Migrations in the Public Security Bureau, emphasized that there is a great need for an appropriate organizational structure in dealing with these issues, and continuous procurement of materials necessary for them.

Paul Martin, Senior Police Adviser (Transnational Threats), Department of Public Security and Community Liaison, OSCE – Mission in Skopje, in his expert presentation denied that Macedonia has a big problem with migrants, because compared to 2015, the situation has improved, and now Macedonia is in a peaceful period, which should be used to implement reforms and deal with the organized crime that crosses the borders.

Mihai Sebe, European Institute of Romania, Head of Unit – Training and Projects Unit, indicated that when talking about such issues, one must first distinguish between migrants and refugees, because both require a different approach – and regarding migrations, he indicated that they are inevitable, you just have be cooperative.

Julija Brsakoska – Bazerkoska, Professor, Faculty of Law “Iustinianus Primus” – Skopje, in her presentation referred to the need for adequate accommodation for persons seeking asylum in the country. She also gave a positive connotation to the topic, adding that the Union is aware of the increasing importance of the Western Balkans in the migration processes.

In her address, Ankica Tomikj, Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the regional center of MARRI, expressed the need for a parallel between gender and migrations, because although the two topics appear different, men and women migrate for different reasons, and there is a need of gender regulation at the borders when seeking asylum.

The expert analyses were completed by Dimitar Nikolovski, Executive Director of “Eurotink”, who referred to the requests from the private sector to bring in labor from other countries, which can greatly change the economic and political situation of the country. Nikolovski explained that the legalization processes should be digitized, which will simplify waiting in institutions and reduce inconsistency.

Otherwise, during the debate dedicated to migrant issues, the experts proposed about a dozen recommendations, among which recommending to the relevant institutions to continuously monitor the visa policy of the EU and the innovations in this area and pay more attention to their implementation in the national visa policy.

The experts also recommended a major national debate on building appropriate public policies to improve the circular (labor) migration and facilitate return migration.