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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Could war in Ukraine affect organized crime in the Western Balkans?

    The war in Ukraine has been raging for two months, with a devastating impact on the country and its people. It is also having spillover effects outside the country. We look at how the war in Ukraine might expand the opportunity space for organized crime in the Western Balkans, including as a result of arms trafficking, money laundering, sanctions busting, the movement of fighters or a possible shift in trafficking routes.

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  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina has become a key transit country for weapons smuggling in Europe.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina is both a source and a transit country for the smuggling of small arms and light weapons. Since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995, the country has been awash with weapons. We look at where the guns come from, where they go and who is involved in this business that contributes to terrorism, war and organized crime.

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  3. Brcko: A market for organized crime.

    In this issue, we focus on the hotspot of Brcko in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. This district, close to Bosnia’s borders with Croatia and Serbia, which has had a reputation since the early 1990s as a marketplace for everything, has recently witnessed a number of incidents concerning smuggling of migrants, weapons and drugs. We look at the factors of vulnerability and the current situation.

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  4. Extortion is underestimated and under-reported in Serbia.

    There have been reports of extortion, usury and racketing in Serbia, but how big is the problem? A new study carried out thanks to a scholarship from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC)’s Resilience Fund shows that the problem is underestimated and under-reported.

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  5. Allegations of missing babies still haunt Serbia.

    It is alleged that, over several decades, thousands of babies have disappeared from maternity hospitals in Serbia and been sold to parents who wanted to adopt a child. This shocking trade came to light as the result of a case against Serbia brought to the European Court of Human Rights. How is such a practice possible, how organized is it and what is being done to address it?

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About this issue

Welcome to the 12th issue of the Risk Bulletin produced by the GI-TOC’s Observatory of Illicit Economies in South-Eastern Europe.

Like many, we are transfixed by the horrible events in Ukraine. We are also concerned about the impact of the war, both in Ukraine and on its people, as well as possible knock-on effects elsewhere. In line with our mission, we put a special focus on the potential impact of the war on organized crime in the Western Balkans. As we did with COVID-19, we will closely monitor the effects of the war in Ukraine on illicit economies in south-eastern Europe.

There is often talk about how weapons from the Western Balkans are smuggled, for example to be used by criminal groups or terrorists in western Europe. In this issue, we take a closer look at the problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While we knew about how weapons that are a legacy of the Bosnian war are smuggled on the black market, we were surprised to learn that Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a transit country. Furthermore, recent arrests and seizures demonstrate transnational cooperation, both by criminals and by law enforcement – as revealed by several recent investigations.

As in every issue, we focus on a hotspot of organized crime. This time, it is Brcko in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Based on interviews and first-hand observations, we explain the factors of vulnerability and the types of trafficking that are prevalent in this small region, as well as problems of corruption in the police.

Thanks to a scholarship from the GI-TOC’s Resilience Fund, Milos Katić from Vojvodina, Serbia, carried out research on extortion and usury in the country. We profile some of the main findings of his research, published in December 2021.

In recent years, the Serbian media has published reports about missing babies. While most of the cases under scrutiny are from decades past, it appears that stealing and smuggling babies and even embryos may still be a problem in a number of countries, with characteristics of organized crime.

We recently published a report on illicit financial flows (IFFs) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, which follows the publication of a similar assessment in 2020 analyzing key drivers and current trends of IFFs in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia.1 The report highlights the need to increase information on the impact and harm of IFFs, as well as civil society’s capacity to investigate and raise awareness on these types of crimes. We hope to focus on these topics in the future.

We are always looking for new ways of presenting our work. We have therefore developed an online interactive platform to feature some of the data and main findings of our reports. The first visualization is an overview of the smuggling of migrants through the Western Balkans. The information is based on data from our 2021 report ‘Spot prices: Analyzing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans’.2 The tool provides data on irregular border crossings along the Balkan route, the numbers and nationalities of migrants and asylum seekers, estimated profits of the migrant-smuggling market and an interactive map displaying smuggling routes and the prices paid for each route. Watch this space for further visualizations of our work, including on the link between organized crime and football hooliganism, as well as trafficking through ports in south-eastern Europe.

If you have a proposal for a story or would like to provide feedback, please contact: almedina.dodic@globalinitiative.net


  1. Robin Cartwright and Kristina Amerhauser, Illicit financial flows in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia: Key drivers and current trends, GI-TOC, January 2022; For the 2020 report, see Tuesday Reitano and Kristina Amerhauser, Illicit financial flows in Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia: Key drivers and current trends, GI-TOC, August 2020, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/iffs-western-balkans/

  2. Walter Kemp, Kristina Amerhauser and Ruggero Scaturro, pot prices: Analyzing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans, GI-TOC, May 2021, https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/western-balkans-crime-hotspots-3/