Nahla Abdel Moneim
The Balkans constitute an important spot for Europe’s security, and given the conflicts that the region has experienced, attracting extremist currents, the European Union countries are keen to provide financial and security assistance to the countries of the region in order to ensure better results in this framework.
The security and institutional decline of the Balkan countries represents a challenge to European security in light of the intense return of ISIS elements, as the Balkan countries opened their doors for the return of their native ISIS elements from the fighting areas, and the Balkan roads in themselves constitute one of the dangerous corridors of illegal immigration and infiltration of terrorists. Will the Balkan governments be able to undermine the growth of terrorism in the region? And how will the European Union strengthen its efforts in the region?
ISIS returnees a serious security challenge
The Balkan countries are among the first European countries to return their ISIS elements, which represents a multilateral security problem. For its part, France has expressed its fears that the Balkans will turn into a safe haven for hundreds of ISIS elements fleeing from Syria and Iraq.
In a question posed in the European Parliament on September 19, concerns emerged about Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia as the most prominent Balkan countries candidate to host terrorists, while European reports indicated that terrorists depend on the criminal infrastructure that the region’s governments have not yet been able to deal with properly, pointing to organized crime gangs in Albania as an important link for extremists.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s fears of Kosovo becoming a threat to Europe’s security also caused a dispute between the two countries. Macron expressed his fear of Kosovo’s open policy towards ISIS returnees, as the country has repatriated at least 250 citizens out of 355 who had gone to Syria, Voice of America reported on January 15, 2020.
Meanwhile, the website Balkan Insight reported on November 9, 2020, that the Montenegrin government has repatriated 15 out of 31 of its citizens who left for Syria and Ukraine in order to participate in the fighting in the two countries, and Macedonia has repatriated 83 of the 156 who traveled to Syria.
Judicial problems and European aid
The Balkan countries face wide judicial challenges in dealing with the file of returnees, as local reports indicate weak legal deterrence for returnees, which increases fears of extremism in the region in light of the widespread return of terrorists from Syria.
Balkan Insight revealed in July 2020 that the number of those convicted of terrorism among the returning citizens is very low compared the file of extremists, and the time they spend in prisons is not enough to ensure that they stop violent behavior, as most sentences in the region carry two to three years in prison for terrorism charges.
For its part, the European Union is trying to address the file so that the Balkans do not turn into a center of threat to the security of the bloc. On April 19, the European Commission announced supporting the Balkans with an amount of $1.55 million as part of a project to combat violent extremism in the region.