Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Bosnia: Bosnia's corrupt elite grow fat on human cargo smuggled to West
From: Melanie Orhant (email@example.com)
Date: Mon Jan 29 2001 - 20:28:30 EST
Bosnia's corrupt elite grow fat on human cargo
smuggled to West
Should Europe seal its borders, or open them to a quota of economic
Observer investigation reveals how well-connected people-traffickers
working out of
Sarajevo are raising the stakes in a £4 billion trade
Special report: refugees in Britain
Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor, in Sarajevo, Chris Morris and
Mahmut Kaya in
Sunday January 28, 2001
Bag Wahab was one of the unlucky ones. On Friday the 26-year-old Turk
sat in the arrivals area at
Sarajevo airport, surrounded by police, his head bowed, close to
tears. An agricultural labourer and
father of two children, he had sold his land and spent all his
savings to enter Europe as an illegal
Wahab fell at the first hurdle. As dozens of young men with similar
ambitions passed through
immigration into Bosnia, jumping-off point for the 'Sarajevo Route'
into the EU, Wahab's lack of
education let him down. He thought he was arriving in a country
called Sarajevo, at a capital called
Grozny. The State Border Service informed him he would be sent home.
Like dozens of other young men from Tunisia and Turkey who had passed
through, their tickets and
passports in order, and with sufficient cash to be allowed to stay,
Wahab had said he was a tourist.
Sitting in a corner of the departures lounge, his journey over, he
abandoned the dissimulation. 'I was
trying to get to France to work,' he told The Observer. 'I've already
spent most of my money paying a
commission to come in. Now what I am going to do? What is going to
happen to me?'
Wahab is the exception rather than the rule. Half an hour later the
others who arrived from Istanbul
with him were heading for an unofficial rank of cabs that pull up on
a verge just outside the airport
compound on the days the Turkish flight comes in, specifically to
carry migrants. Where they are
taken next is Sarajevo's biggest open secret. Those not taken by van
or taxi immediately to the
Croatian border will spend a few days in a hotel, among them the
Alemko, a low, dilapidated, purple
building not far from the city centre. The Orijent and Palas hotels
are also favourites with the criminal
gangs running the people-smuggling rackets.
Their next step was revealed by a surveillance operation set up by
officers of the International Police
Task Force in Sarajevo in December, who tracked three groups of
migrants to small hotels and safe
houses close to the international borders they will cross by foot, in
boats across the Sava river, or
even in the back of empty fuel tanker lorries specially equipped with
benches, all of them en route for
Wahab and the other young men who arrived on Friday are the willing
victims of the world's
fastest-growing crime, a trade that the International Organisation
for Migration calculates is worth
upwards of £70 million a year in Bosnia alone. Worldwide, the UN
estimates, the smugglers earned
around £4 billion in the past 12 months alone. Coming to Bosnia is
not a crime. But what they will try
to do when they are here is definitely illegal. And few have any
doubt that the smuggling of migrants is
being aided through Bosnia by police and politicians at the highest level.
According to Geoffrey Beaumont, coordinator of the UN's project to
set up a functioning Bosnian State
Border Service, more than 10 per cent of the half million illegal
migrants who reached the EU last year
came via the Bosnian route. And although Croatia has been catching up
to 5,000 of them a year, few
are in any doubt that, deported back to Bosnia, most will try again.
By their third attempt officials
believe most will have crossed into Europe proper.
It is a route fast becoming one of the biggest headaches for the EU.
Last week European
Commissioner Chris Patten announced extra aid for training Bosnian
and other Balkan police forces in
the fight against migrant-smuggling after it was raised by EU Foreign
The announcement comes against a background of a rising sense of
crisis in the EU over illegal
migration which has increased more than tenfold in the past 10 years.
Across Europe arrests at
borders are rocketing, as are asylum applications across the 15 nations.
In Bosnia the traffic in illegal migrants conceals a second, more
venal trade in humans: the trade in
sex slaves which lures women and young girls to Bosnia 'mainly from
Eastern Europe and former
Soviet republics' with the promise of jobs as au pairs or waitresses in the EU.
In one of the most shocking cases, uncovered last summer, 12 women
and young girls were found
locked in a darkened room in a bar in the town of Prijedor, where
they had been held and repeatedly
According to officials who dealt with the case, the horror of the
original discovery was quickly
overtaken by a sense of impotence as corrupt local officials
frustrated their efforts to prosecute those
involved. 'We had to move the women four times in 10 days to
different secret safe houses because
the traffickers kept turning up outside,' says Fredric Larrson,
programme manager with the
International Organisation for Migration in Sarajevo.
Their persistence paid off. Faced with constant harassment, four of
the five women prepared to testify
against the slavers withdrew their evidence and the case collapsed.
International officials have no
question about how the women were so easily found. 'We have very
strong indications,' said one
official familiar with the case, 'that the authorities collude in
both the trafficking of people and
smuggling in illegal immigrants at the very highest level.'
The case of the Prijedor women, say officials, is simply the starkest
evidence of the difficulties they
face in trying to stamp out human trafficking in Bosnia: the
large-scale involvement of corrupt
politicians and police. Prosecutions have been almost non-existent
for both crimes; detection is
hampered by those willing to help the people-smugglers.
Among those named to The Observer by international officials as
suspected of benefiting from the
trade in migrants is the son of one of Bosnia's most respected
figures. One senior official said: 'His
company was organising special charter flights full of Iranians last
year who simply disappeared. Do I
think he is involved? I believe at least that he has benefited from
it. The truth,' he continued, 'is that
this is being encouraged by corruption at the very highest levels.'
Evidence exists too that the smuggling business is part of a
sophisticated international network that
supplies forged documents as well. In some cases the trail leads to Britain.
Late last year, say international police, a package was intercepted
from London addressed to an
Iranian woman renting accommodation in Sarajevo. Instead of the CDs
it claimed to contain, the
package was stuffed with stolen European passports.
The shocking reality of Bosnia today, international officials say, is
this. Five years after the Dayton
Peace Agreement was signed to bring a genocidal war to an end, a
country that has received
unprecedented military and economic aid from the international
community has turned, not into a
model Balkan democracy, but into one of Europe's main hubs for
'It is depressing as hell,' said one official. 'Almost half the
people in Sarajevo depend on the
international community for their income, but we can't persuade the
authorities to stamp it out. It
would be easy if the international community was really bothered. We
could simply say stop this or
we stop the aid.'
It is a threat already levelled against Yugoslavia, blamed for years
under the Milosevic regime of being
the main conduit of Chinese migrants into Europe. Late last year the
EU told President Vojislav
Kostunica that aid to his country is contingent on him closing the
door to the tens of thousands of
Chinese illegal immigrants using Belgrade as a first stop on their
route into the EU.
It is a solution many international officials believe should be
applied to shock Bosnia's corrupt
politicians out of their complacency. But they do not blame Bosnia
alone. 'We are very concerned over
what Europe is going to do about this problem,' says Geoffrey
Beaumont. 'They say they are worried
about this, but is their solution to seal off Bosnia from Europe?'
So far, he concedes, there is little danger of that. The State Border
Service he is helping to set up is
'so far working at only four of Bosnia's 400-odd border crossings.
International funding for the project
has been woeful. At present we have a budget of around £6 million to
control all of Bosnia's borders. If
Europe was serious about controlling this problem all it would cost
the individual governments would
be around £3m a year. That must be cheaper than the money that they
are spending on detecting,
arresting, holding and returning illegal refugees. So far the only
people who are really trying hard on
this issue are the Germans and the Dutch.'
The alternative is a solution that is quickly becoming the EU's most
controversial issue: a proposed
scheme of managed migration into Europe via quotas and a 'green card'
entry scheme similar to that
in the US. Floated last December in a European Commission
communication, it calls for a
Europe-wide asylum and immigration policy that would abandon three
decades of a zero migration
policy in response to predictions of a declining and ageing European
population that will need mass
migration to sustain its economic life.
What that would mean, according to the EU justice and home affairs
Commissioner, Antonio Vitorino,
involved in drawing up the paper, is a policy aimed at trebling legal
migration to almost one million by
But despite evidence collected by the Commission, the idea of a
permit system for unskilled labourers
like Wahab is unlikely to be smiled on by politicians in Britain or
elsewhere. For although Britain's
Home Office Minister, Barbara Roche, has been persuaded of the need
to attract skilled migrants, no
one has been persuaded of the case of those at the bottom of the
ladder. It is a contradiction that has
been noted by Sarah Spencer, director of the Citizenship and
Governance programme of the Institute
for Public Policy Research, who has been advising the Home Office on
any change to its migration
'One of the questions that has yet to be addressed is that, if we had
legal channels into Britain and
Europe, would it reduce the pressure to come in and dissuade people
from going to the smugglers?
That is a very sensitive issue. At the moment we have got a consensus
that we need skilled labourers.
We need to extend that consensus to a similar need for unskilled
labourers of the kind currently
coming in illegally.'
Last week in Bosnia there was little room for optimism. The biggest
success in the fight against the
migrant trade in the past year was the international community
persuading Iran to impose visas on its
visitors to Bosnia, barring 25,000 Iranian migrants who passed
through last year. They know there is
little room for complacency. How little room exactly was revealed
last week when The Observer visited
a travel agency in the back streets of Aksaray, in Istanbul's old
city. In the windows of local travel
agents, signs advertise 'Visas'. In a back room of one small hotel, a
woman from the Caucasus runs
what is clearly a profitable business. We are introduced by a mutual
acquaintance, and ask whether
she can help an Iranian friend get to Bosnia. She asks a few
questions in return, and sounds a little
'Why Bosnia?' 'He has relatives there.'
'When does he want to go?' 'As soon as he can.'
Finally she picks up the phone to call a contact: the man with the
visas. She says a visa and a ticket
for Bosnia can be ready the following day for $1,000. 'Does your
friend want to go further?' she asks.
'Perhaps.' 'That can also be arranged, but it will cost much more.'
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
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