Countering Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling in the Western Balkans: key regional actors gather in Budva, Montenegro

Budva - On February 6th and 7th 2023, key actors from the Western Balkans included in counter-trafficking and counter-smuggling response and other key actors representing international, EU, and regional levels (ie. UN, EU institutions/agencies, regional mechanisms) gathered in Montenegro at the Regional Conference: “Countering Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling in the Western Balkans“. The Conference served as a platform for mutual exchange on trends and modalities observed on enhancing systems and capacities to trafficking in human beings (THB) and smuggling of migrants (SOM). Additionally, it provided the platform to share the best practices and experiences, thereby facilitating joint approaches to common challenges to THB and SOM imposed in the digital age.

Participants came together in making an unanimous observation: the facilitation of trafficking and smuggling online is expected to become even more pronounced and lucrative in the coming years. While social media, mobile applications, and online gaming platforms are frequently used for various purposes, the use of cryptocurrencies by smuggling networks is and will complement the existing, traditional modalities of payment, such as Hawala system.  Criminal business are capitalizing on opportunities offered by the online environment and the digital solutions already omnipresent in the modus operandi of migrant smugglers and traffickers.

The digitalization of migrant smuggling and human trafficking further highlights the need for strengthened regional coordination. Mr. Dragan Klikovac, Assistant Police Director of Border Police Department of Montenegro, noted the crucial importance of such platforms increasing cooperation between Western Balkans partners. The Conference also offered an opportunity for WB6 partners to exchange on available software systems, tools, and digital forensics in tracing cryptocurrencies in THB and SOM activities, to proactively respond to the ever-evolving modus- operandi of organized crime networks.

Rights-based and victim-centered approach in the context of national and regional referral mechanisms was also at the center of the Conference’s proceedings. Experts and representatives from the Western Balkans exchanged experiences and knowledge on various methods for detection and running of in-depth investigations. Building on the Skopje Declaration, the Conference aimed to contribute to the broad objective of improving coordination and cooperation between Western Balkans partners on the topic, while working towards sustainable migration governance.

“We have seen the great efforts done in the areas of humanitarian assistance and immediate protection (…) but now the time is right for a shift into more long-term solutions when it comes to migration: more identification of people as soon as they enter the territory and also identification of what would be the best solutions for them in the Western Balkans but also beyond as well in the countries of origin”, noted Laura Lungarotti, IOM Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Western Balkans.

The Conference was organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), within the scope of the project „Joint Actions Against Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Human Beings“ (WBJAST), supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, in cooperation with the project "Countering Serious Crime in the Western Balkans IPA 2019" (CSC WB IPA 2019), supported by the European Union, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Italian Ministry of Interior, implemented by GIZ (The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit Gmbh), together with the Center for International Legal cooperation and the Ministry of the Interior affairs of Italy.

For more information, please contact IOM Western Balkans at

SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 9 - Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals