Regional Meeting of the Border Police and Customs Representatives

The Regional Meeting of the Border Police and Customs Representatives was held this year in Skopje on 21-22 November 2023 in cooperation with FRONTEX.

The meeting gathered participants from six Western Balkan jurisdictions and Moldova as well as representatives of Hungarian and Bulgarian Customs authorities and representatives of OSCE, UNODC, UNDP and IOM to discuss the latest developments and challenges encountered concerning firearms trafficking across borders.

The meeting was opened by H.E. Oliver Spasovski, Minister of the Interior of the Republic of North Macedonia who highlighted the importance of regional cooperation, especially around important topics such is the trafficking of firearms that contribute directly to the stability of the Region.  

Opening remarks were also given by Mr. Ben Nupnau, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to North Macedonia who pointed out that Western Balkans are a part of the European family and outlined that European Union is determined in the execution of its common foreign and security policy, within which, the arms control plays a significant role.

With the aim to provide a platform for the exchange of information and knowledge among participants and to encourage comprehensive and detailed discussions, meeting was structured in three distinct panels and three working groups.

The first panel was dedicated to the nexus of migrants and weapons. The discussion was led by FRONTEX, IOM, border police representatives from Serbia, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the customs representative from Hungary. They have presented cases of armed possession and armed violence among migrants, situational analysis of such cases, links of migrant smugglers with organized crime groups, the origin of weapons seized, and recommendations for cooperation.

During the second panel, led by SESSAC, FRONTEX, representatives of border police from Moldova, Montenegro, Albania as well as customs representative from North Macedonia, participants discussed the integration of the Handbook and Standard Operating Procedures in the work of border officials, inter-institutional cooperation and also provided feedback from the firearms detection course held by SEESAC and FRONTEX during the year.

The Third panel was dedicated to new trends and threats in firearms trafficking. This important topic was discussed among panelists from SEESAC, FRONTEX, UNODC, OSCE and Customs representatives from Hungary, Bulgaria and Kosovo[1]. They led the discussion on the new developments in the area of blank-firing weapons, fake guns and new technologies in use in  conversion of firearms but also on the best practices in the detection and handling of explosive precursors at borders.

The first day of this regional gathering was concluded by presentations of Customs representative from Bulgaria on the detection of precursors for chemical weapons, how they can be stopped at the Border and returned to the sending country, and the importance of cooperation with other Customs Administrations in this process, and the presentation on the Hungarian Customs experience about illegal firearm activities, focusing specifically on the "Balkan route", EU external border control issues, and illicit firearms smuggling trends.

Warmed up by the discussion on the first day, participants have divided into three separate working groups during the second day to dive more deeply into three major topics for discussion: Migrants with weapons, Handbook on Firearms for Border Guards and Customs and its implementation and the new trends and threats in firearms trafficking.

Lively discussions in working groups resulted in many interesting findings and conclusions that were presented to the entire forum at the very end, setting the basis for future activities and potential links for further cooperation.

This meeting was organized within the framework of the EU (CFSP) 2019/2111 in support of SEESAC’s disarmament and arms control activities in South-East Europe.

[1] References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of the Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.