Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. An increasing number of Albanians are crossing the English Channel from France using small boats.

    Since July 2022, the large number of Albanians illegally crossing the English Channel from France to the United Kingdom has received a great deal of attention in both the media and in British politics, where the focus has been on improving border control and curbing illegal immigration. In this article, based on interviews and a granular analysis of Albanian language social media sites, we look at how this illegal business is conducted, the prices and publicity techniques used (such as social media), as well as the push and pull factors bringing Albanians to the UK.

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  2. Western Balkans criminal groups are contributing to drug-related violence in Ecuador.

    In 2022, Ecuador was plagued by outbreaks of violence connected to organized criminal groups, including bomb attacks, prison riots and the assassination of three prosecutors. The ‘narco’ violence became so acute that the government declared a state of emergency in November 2022. While this small Latin American country is situated more than 10 000 kilometres from south-eastern Europe, its instability stems partly from the activities of criminal groups from the Western Balkans that have become big players in cocaine smuggling from Ecuador to Western Europe. Based on first-hand research in the region, we look at how and why this is happening and explain why the recent violence may be helping these groups to consolidate their position in the lucrative local drug economy.

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  3. Kosovo takes steps to increase value of assets seized related to organized crime.

    The criminal legislation of Kosovo regulates the confiscation of criminal assets and the proceeds of organized crime, but so far, the country’s criminal justice system has produced few results. Moreover, there is a major discrepancy between the value of assets temporarily seized and those that were permanently confiscated, due to the reluctance of courts to issue decisions regarding the final confiscation of assets and the lack of specialized judges and prosecutors. The government of Kosovo has taken a number of steps to close this gap. Will these initiatives be able to increase the value of assets seized and confiscated? And following the example of other countries in the region, such as Albania and Serbia, can more be done to improve the social reuse of confiscated assets?

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  4. Balkans fighters are taking up arms in Ukraine, with risks for organized crime.

    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been going on for nearly a year, has stirred up illicit economies in the latter two countries, with knock-on effects in the wider world, including in south-eastern Europe. Observers, including the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), have been following this situation closely. However, less attention has been paid to the several thousand men from south-eastern Europe who have taken up arms to fight on either the Russian or Ukrainian side. In this issue we look at this phenomenon and explore the links with organized crime as well as the challenges of dealing with the return of these fighters to the region.

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  5. Fraudulent or illegally obtained Balkans documents are permitting ease of travel for criminals worldwide.

    Police investigating organized criminal groups in or from the Western Balkans repeatedly point to a common thread – the ease with which many criminals travel using fake passports or illegally obtained immigration documents from countries in the region. There are two main ways in which criminals obtain such documents. Either they physically alter a valid passport that is stolen or purchased on the black market by changing the photo or biographical data, or they illegally purchase a valid passport in their own name or under an alias by bribing a corrupt official. We look at why and how this problem exists in the region, and what can be done to curb it.

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  6. Bosnia and Herzegovina faces law enforcement challenges in countering human smuggling.

    Smuggling of migrants via Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the rise. Since it is has become more difficult to transit the country in recent years because of tougher border controls from Croatia – which has recently joined the Schengen zone – as well as the erection of fences in some areas, there has been an increased demand for smugglers to facilitate border crossings. In November 2022, the GI-TOC, in partnership with the Ministry of Interior Affairs of the Canton of Sarajevo, organized a meeting that brought together a wide range of stakeholders dealing with this issue in order to discuss the problem and promote more effective cooperation in dealing with it.

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  7. The GI-TOC co-organized a colloquium in Athens to address the lack of topics on organized crime in Western Balkans higher education.

    While organized crime and corruption are major challenges in the Western Balkans, these issues are insufficiently analyzed. Part of the problem stems from a dearth of education on these topics in higher education. To address this issue, the GI-TOC co-organized a scientific colloquium in Athens. We summarize the main topics raised at the meeting as well as ideas for follow up.

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