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Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe


Summary highlights

  1. Increasing migratory pressures in Serbia have led to conflict between people smuggling groups and crackdowns on migration.

    At least 125 000 migrants passed through Serbia in 2022, twice as many as in 2021 and the most since the 2015 migrant crisis, when 600 000 people moved through the country. As a result, armed conflicts between smuggling groups have escalated, prompting police to raid migrant gathering points. The EU has also called on the Serbian government to review its visa policy with countries such as Tunisia and Burundi, to clamp down on irregular migration into the EU. The article analyzes human smuggling trends and increasing violence in Serbia following a resurgence in migration.

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  2. Squeezing the sponge: post-conflict Ukraine poses a great risk of firearms trafficking.

    The war in Ukraine has opened new horizons for organized crime. One of the biggest is trafficking in firearms. While Ukraine is currently like a sponge, soaking up all the weapons that it can obtain, the day will come when the country has a surplus of weapons, which may find their way onto the black market. Lessons in this regard can be learned from the experience of post-war Yugoslavia. It is important to monitor the flow of weapons into and out of South Eastern Europe as a result of the war in Ukraine and put in place measures to contain the problem.

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  3. Information gained from decrypted messaging apps has driven a wave of indictments and arrests in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Messaging apps such as Sky ECC have become a treasure trove of information about criminal groups and their collaborators. The decryption of these apps has revealed how criminals used them to traffic firearms and military equipment, contract hitmen-for-hire and arrange drug deals. The consequences in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been significant, rocking both the underworld and the political sphere. How officials deal with this situation could provide an opportunity for the country to strengthen international cooperation to address crime and corruption.

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  4. Bloody clashes among Montenegrin clans have not undermined their role in the international cocaine trade.

    The Škaljari and Kavač clans are powerful criminal organizations from Montenegro that deal with the global cocaine business. Their bloody clash has led to the deaths of more than 60 people since it started in 2015. Several key members are either dead, on the run or in custody, which could affect the clans’ power relations and share of illicit business. This article assesses whether the conflict will continue, which clan will be better positioned in the illegal cocaine trade and what effect future institutional efforts could have on the clans’ illicit activities.

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  5. Rising synthetic drug seizures in Albania suggests local demand for these substances is growing.

    Albania is a well-known source of cannabis, and Albanian criminal groups are notorious for cocaine trafficking. But recent seizures of synthetic drugs suggest that there may be a growing market for such substances in Albania, both among tourists and young people, who take various amphetamine-type stimulants, such as Ecstasy. Preventive and remedial action to address this upward trend is needed.

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  6. Human trafficking in Serbia: Interview with NGO ASTRA.

    Human trafficking has received considerable attention in the Western Balkans, but the focus has usually been on sexual exploitation. Recent cases in Serbia, particularly involving migrants from Asia working in dire conditions, have highlighted the growing problem of forced labour. Marija Anđelković, founder and executive director of the NGO ASTRA, discusses human trafficking in Serbia and the shortcomings in existing approaches to address the issue.

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About this issue

It has been a hot summer in the Balkans, and not only because of the temperatures. There have been shootings at the Serbian border as a result of competition among traffickers. There have been arrests of police and politicians, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a knock-on effect of revelations from decryption of chats. Furthermore, the impact of the war in neighbouring Ukraine is felt in relation to inflation, immigration and geopolitics. The summer also brings a major influx of tourists to the region. In some regions, such as Albania’s Adriatic coast, this seems to have an impact on the use of synthetic drugs.

In this issue of the Risk Bulletin of the Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe, we start by looking at migrant smuggling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the growing violence associated with it. We then look at the massive influx of weapons into Ukraine and how this could have an effect in the flows of weapons through South Eastern Europe.

We also follow up on a story that we published in Risk Bulletin 13 on the revelations resulting from the decryption of the Sky ECC app. In the past few months, a considerable amount of information has come to light that incriminates key figures in the underworld but also the security services and politicians. There will no doubt be further fallout from the decryption of this app, which we will observe closely.

For some time, we have been following the bloody conflict between two Montenegrin clans that have been competing for control of the cocaine trade. In this issue, we provide an update on the current situation and look ahead to the possible evolution of this feud.

Our coverage of drug markets in Albania usually focuses on cannabis and cocaine, but recent seizures indicate that there could be a growing incidence of the use of synthetic drugs in the country. We explore what is behind this increase and what can be done about it.

In past risk bulletins, we have interviewed key actors in civil society – often women – who are playing a vital role in their communities in the response to organized crime and corruption. In this issue, we continue this practice by interviewing Marija Andelkovic, founder and executive director of the NGO ASTRA based in Serbia, about the problem of human trafficking in Serbia.

We value your feedback and suggestions for stories. If you would like to get in touch or if you have an idea for a story, please contact Vanja.Petrovic@globalinitiative.net.