Co-author: Admirina Peci (Albania) Before he started the long road to Europe, the 26-year-old Ibrahim from Hara city of Afghanistan was prepared to face anything only to get to a developed country of Europe. He spent his years of childhood and youth in the period of terrible wars. He says that the war had taken the lives of three members of his family. With a small suitcase and seven thousand dollars that had managed to save, in March of 2010 Ibrahim had the road towards European capitals, hoping to find a good job to help himself and the members of his family who were still alive. But, apparently he is still on the half of the road. He is illegally sheltered almost a month in Llojane of Macedonia, a village of 6 thousand inhabitants only one kilometer away from the border with Serbia.
There he had been left to wait for the host people he had paid, to get him into a state member of the European Union (EU). They have been told him to wait until they give him the sign that allows him to continue the trip, but this expectation is increasingly becoming unbearable for Ibrahim. Together with almost 300 other illegal immigrants mainly from his home state, he is already convinced that he is stuck in a state where can not find a job or achieve the goal to help his family.
Macedonia is among the first countries with the highest rate of unemployment, near 35 percent, while every third resident is living in deep poverty. Ibrahim says that very discouraging for all of them have been the moment when they had learned that the youth of Lojane have fled to the EU countries to seek asylum, and that they were returned back by European authorities after being denied the application for asylum. “I can’t stay here. I have friends who already have arrived in England, Germany, France … There they have found jobs and gained asylum. I will make it too, “he says while tightening the fist to show his determination of achieving his goal. A powerful network No competent institution in Macedonia, Greece or Albania has any evidence of the exact number of immigrants from Afghanistan and other conflict countries in the Far East that have entered the continent of Europe. From interviews with illegal immigrants sheltered in Llojane of Macedonia, one finds out that the most massive influx began in 2005. From Afghanistan they go into Iran, then to Turkey to finally arrive in Greece or Bulgaria. It is the same road that traverses the drugs cultivated in Afghanistan which finds its market in Europe. Before nearly seven years, the network of traffickers who smuggle drugs had the first opportunity to test this proved illegal way to exploit people. These networks, which are mainly run by citizens of Iran, have already opened tourist agencies in several cities of Afghanistan, offering “excursions” in European capitals. For their customers, visa or a passport is not needed, but only 7-10 thousand dollars. The incomes of a large part of the Afghan population are directly associated with the cultivation of opium poppy, thus, saving this much money has never been their problem. Ibrahim, who does not want to publish his full identity or to be photographed, said he doesn’t even want to show details about the network of traffickers. He just said that this international network, consisting nationals of Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey and Iran, is well organized and powerful that it would endanger not only him but also his family in Afghanistan. He wouldn’t want at all to risk continuing his illegal journey.The network that operates through “tourist” agencies in Afghanistan; takes 7 thousand dollars form customers with the promise that it would take them to the first country of EU.“Depending on the states, the groups were delivered to us from one to another. We paid 2 thousand dollars to each. What surprised me the most was the fact that they knew very well the moment when to pass the border, “says Ibrahim. According to him, all the groups that make up the network knew exactly when the guards on the shift are “their people”. “Surely they have bribed them. Simply they were acting like they didn’t see us”. The European network contains traffickers starting from freight carriers to farmers. Immigrants who have possessed large sums of money were not halted in Greece but continued towards the final destination – England or France. Others have ended up in the hands of Greek farmers, were they have been housed and had started to work. Traffickers have not told them that Greece is geographically separated from the rest of the EU countries and the Schengen Area. They had lied to immigrants telling them that when one enters in Greece he can freely move in any European country. Greek crisis and the influx of immigrants Until 2008 immigrants from Afghanistan moved almost unrecognized in the region of Macedonia, to continue to Serbia and to enter Hungary, as an EU country. Besides this illegal route, traffickers were also using the illegal route Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary and Greece-Albania-Italy. The Macedonian state authorities, but also other regional countries had not made the necessary efforts to stop these illegal trafficking routes. Diplomatic sources in Skopje said that the countries that have been “flooded” by immigrants of Afghanistan have repeatedly asked the authorities in Skopje to out and end to the trafficking routes. According to them, Macedonia’s Interior Ministry has cut these routes but at the same time other channels are set up by the same people. After failures in combating smugglers, diplomats have begun to suspect that in this lucrative business are included state officials of Macedonia. The situation has become alarming in 2008 when Greece begins to feel seriously the effects of the economic crisis. The majority of Afghans gets unemployed so their eyes were headed towards the rest of Europe’s most developed stated. Meanwhile, the increased pressure from Brussels to Bulgaria and Serbia give the first results in cutting the smuggling channels, so that over 500 Afghans remain in Macedonia, of whom only 300 in the village of Llojane. “The number is not the same and varies from day to day. Some go to Serbia and some others come from Greece and get stationed here. There are over 300 here in Llojane. I don’t know exactly where they are from, perhaps from Afghanistan or some other Arab country in there, “says Selami Mehmeti, the chairman of local community of Llojane the village. Another inhabitant of this village, Bunjamin Ramadani, says that the number increases from day to day and it depends on how many of them succeed to penetrate the EU countries through Serbia or fail to do so and get back to the village. Another peasant from this village, Iljasa Saliu, who is a publicist, says this suffering caravan is the very true face of Macedonia, referring to institutions which with their inadequate reacting had irritated the local population in Llojane. “According to some information from the villagers themselves, their number is assumed to be 300, with occasional changes, while the number a year ago seemed to be twice as high,” said Sali. He claims that among these immigrants there are those, which hold themselves as a guide – a carrier for the Western European countries, who knows the terrain and languages spoken in these regions. “That, we were able to understand based on the fact that three consecutive years we have seen the same people, perhaps brilliantly integrated among the inhabitants of Llojane and wasn’t any trouble to note who is involved in this trade,” said Sali. The responsible authority, namely the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the eyes of the villagers of Llojane is seen as failed, while many of them even doubt that among the blue uniforms are those who benefit. “Many times we have informed the police of Mateç and of Kumanovo, but nothing. They come just to show up, they take from 10-15 immigrants, they send them in Kumanovo only to set them free after 4-5 hours and return them back to Llojane “says Mehmeti, the head of the villagers of Lojane. Residents say they have provided the police with all information needed for the case they have spotted, namely about the taxi company from Gevgelija, and other one from Kumanovo which are the ones who bring the immigrants into the entrance of the village. Yet, nothing is being done. Competent state institutions claim they will take measures to deport all those who illegally entered the territory of Macedonia. The spokesman of the Macedonian Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ivo Kotevski, told local media that the police will respond if there are people who have entered illegally into Macedonia. He explained that any person, who is illegally in Macedonia, when caught by the police, is placed in the Transit Centre for Foreigners. “If they seek for asylum they are sent to be taken care in the center of asylum seekers.” Meanwhile, only 63 people are currently stationed in the Asylum Seekers Centre in Skopje, according to official data. Most of them were headed for EU countries, but have ended up in Macedonia. Although the center has been functioning since 2008, during the 2011 670 persons have been there, most of them persons who escaped from Afghanistan. The number of those seeking asylum in Macedonia this year has increased to five times more than previous years. But statistics show that since 2005 until now only 12 persons have received positive response. In Albania with false passports While Macedonia is still easily passable place for immigrants and heaven for traffickers of human beings, Albania seems to have added measures to prevent this illegal trade. But, it’s not enough. Albanian police officers try to persuade us that foreign immigrants can not go to European countries using the Albanian coast as a crossing point. According to them, the Albanian coast is strictly monitored and they have destroyed all of the trafficking networks with vessels. But the response given in written form by an official source of the Albanian State Police after our request is followed by a series of events in late November and early December, where groups of Afghan illegal immigrants, Pakistanis or Iranians was caught in the Italian coast, after the boat had left Albania. Also in the place Kapshtica, in the border with Greece these days, 4 clandestine Afghans were captured hidden in a truck, also an Iranian citizen with false documents that he had issued in Athens. On December 9, 2011 in the Italian coast Salento, two boats with 57 Afghan and Iranian clandestine had arrived. The boats had sailed from Albania. The news agency quoted the Italian police, who had informed that in the two boats, on board were 4 women and 26 children, among whom 4 were minor girls, while the remaining 27 clandestine were males. On the other side, the Albanian state police had rushed to refute this story. “It is not true that 57 Afghan and Iranian clandestine caught off the coast of Salento in Italy, came from Albania. Albanian coast is constantly monitored by the latest modern technology devices and powerful boats, which make possible the controlling of the water space and immediate intervention in case of attempted trafficking, “was written in the public statement of the Albanian State Police. According to our investigation, two years from now, on payment of 1000 – 1500 Euros per person, from the coast of Vlora and Saranda several sailing objects that transported clandestine Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians had sailed to Italy. This is the scheme of the route. After arriving in Greece from Turkey through mediators, dozens of clandestine cross the Greek-Albanian border using false documents, mainly in the spots called Kapshtica, but also in Kakavija. After they make contact with some people in the south of the coast, they sail of to Italy using raid boats. An employee of the Vlora police explained us the scheme mentioned above. Recalling the recent events we can officially certify the validity of the scheme. I refer to the events of 27th and 28th of November this year, when the police of Korca announced that towards Albania, through Greece, were headed a wave of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. The Kapshtica border crossing seems that has become a gateway to the entry of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. The last arrests of foreign nationals at this crossing point testify this. On November 27 it was announced that at the border point of Kapshitca were discovered four foreign nationals, three of whom were Afghans and one Pakistani. The four clandestine migrants were found inside a truck, the driver was transporting them to Italy, which was their final destination. The age of Afghan nationals was from 20 to 25 years, while the Pakistani citizen was 18-years old. The truck belonged to a firm which imported fruits and vegetables in Greece. The driver of the vehicle, Slavko Sekulic, 55 years old male from Podgorica, Montenegro was arrested on charges of giving aid to illegal border crossing. Police sources in the customs of the border Kapshtica, announced that they have strengthened controls against illegal immigration of citizens from the Middle East. Also at this point was arrested an Iranian. The regional directorate of the border police in Korca, officially announced the arrested male was the 28-year-old Yaghob Asgari from Tehran, who tried to enter the Albanian territory with a false Bulgarian passport. The 28-year-old male from Tehran, but with Turkish nationality, was suspected of committing an illegal entry in Albania through Kapshtica, by his Bulgarian passport. The 28-year-old Iranian told the police of Kapshtica that he had received the Bulgarian passport in Athens for a fee of 400 Euros. Greece, center of traffickers The concentration of large numbers of immigrants in Greece has made this European country to become a center where traffickers operate. Their network consists of European travel agencies, freight transportation companies, travel document forgers, taxi drivers, farmers and state officials. According to the data from the Greek department for Protection of Citizens, only in September of 2011 at the Evros border crossing with Turkey 7052 illegal immigrants have been detained, 6339 in August, 5941 in July and in June 3689. A smaller number has been arrested from January to May 2011. It had happened often that traffickers have left the immigrants sailing in the water and had ran away not to be caught by the police. As consequence some immigrants had died from the cold water or by drowning in it. The research showed that the most common way used by traffickers to carry immigrants in EU countries is through their delivery into the hands of criminal networks of any state. The immigrants coming illegally in Macedonia cross the border near the cities of Gevgelija or Dojran. There, they are being taken “care” by the Macedonian network of traffickers. The traffickers, for a total of 500 Euros take the duty of crossing the immigrants illegally at the border with Serbia. In there, Serbian traffickers take them and cross them illegally into Hungary. But it had happened often that Greek traffickers would take care of everything. The travel agencies involved in this criminal network, hide the immigrants in their buses, while some of the traffickers get camouflaged as tourists going on excursion in the EU countries. There are those who travel by private aircraft to the desired destination, after previously being provided with false passports. In this context, on January the 7th, 2011 the Greek police detained a group of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan who had issued false Danish passports to fly to Rome and Genoa. For their trip a private jet was provided, the flight had cost 11 thousands of Euros. The group was arrested at the airport of Jonina and Kavala. In the group were two Morocco women with Italian passports, two pilots from Italy and a tourist agent from Greece who had paid for the private jet. Another path is through transport companies, hiding illegal immigrants in the back of the goods loaded into barges. Fear for safety The massive influx of illegal immigrants has increased the security concerns in the EU and in the USA. The lack of any control over whocrosses the European borders has increased doubts whether between these economic illegal immigrants are those who would undertake terrorist attacks in the capitals of the EU or USA. In Macedonia, concerned about their security, seem to be only the residents of Lojane. They told us the case of three months ago, when a group of immigrants in the late hours of the night had attacked four Lojane residents. Immediately after the incident, the self organized villagers had gathered in the village center all the illegal immigrants. Afterwards, they had called the police and told them to take away the immigrants because they represent a risk to their safety. “The Macedonian police, after questioning the immigrants, released them and they returned again in Lojane. The next day continued same as before, with illegal immigrants who walked the streets, squares cafes and in the mountains, “says Iljasa Saliu, a resident of the village Lojane. For these incidents, the head of the local community of this village, Selami Mehmeti also expressed his concerns. “They cause so many problems. We have had a few fights and slaughter by knife between the immigrants themselves. We are no longer safe” he said. This story was supported by the Danish SCOOP