The European Commission presented its action plan to help the Western Balkans deal with rising migration on December 5.
Illegal movements along the Western Balkans routes have significantly increased in 2022 mainly due to economic pressures and insecurity resulting from ongoing conflicts.
The plan was presented ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit due to take place on December 6 in Tirana and the Justice and Home Affairs Council on December 8.
The plan identifies 20 operation measures structured along five pillars: strengthening border management, swift asylum procedures, fighting migrant smuggling, enhancing readmission cooperation and achieving visa policy alignment.
The measures are intended to strengthen cooperation on migration and border management with the six Western Balkans countries. The Commission said that reinforcing border management along the whole migration route is essential to reduce irregular flows.
The EU has already concluded status agreements with Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia, allowing Frontex to deploy the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps to joint operations in the region.
The Commission said that the EU remains committed to strengthening the asylum capacity of its Western Balkans partners and is supporting reception across the region through an ongoing Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) programme.
On November 3, the Commission launched an Anti-Smuggling Operational Partnership and said that to continue strengthening actions along the whole route it is necessary to establish a Europol operational task force, enhance participation of all Western Balkan partners in the EMPACT cycle 2022-2025 and implement the IPA programme on anti-smuggling.
The full implementation of readmission agreements with Western Balkan partners is the backbone of return and readmission cooperation.
In this regard the Commission said it will support Western Balkans partners to step up returns in the region, strengthening operational capacities through Frontex, as well as convening Joint Readmission Committees.
A new programme on returns from the region will be developed in 2023, stepping up cooperation and coordination at operational level between the EU, the Western Balkans and countries of origin.
The Commission also said that all Western Balkans partners should align their visa policy with the EU as a matter of priority.