In a recent report published 20 last May since "The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime" The characteristics of organized crime hotspots in the Western Balkans were analyzed, providing an analysis of the reasons that make these places particularly vulnerable and attractive to organized crime. The research points out that Albania is not only a transitory country for drugs, but also the main producer of cannabis in the region. However, the article highlights in particular the reduction of cannabis production and its seizure in Albania after the 2017.
Are the Balkans still the powder keg of Europe?
The report initially argues that the Balkans do not yet enjoy that much coveted stability from the EU. In recent years, there has been a feeling that "the Western Balkans were accomplished", both for the approach with the EU and with NATO, and for the regional cooperation begun between the countries.
It was perhaps an illusion; because the Balkans still remain a very hot spot. The 2015 refugee crisis has restored the "Balkan route" to the center of public attention. The war in the Middle East has led people to leave the region for foreign battles. Talks facilitated by the EU to normalize relations between Belgrade and Prishtina they failed. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation is fragile, as the country remains deeply divided along ethnic lines. The political situation in Albania has deteriorated, with the opposition democratic party having decided to have all the parliamentarians' mandates dismissed.
It is critically highlighted that the EU is losing strategic control of the region due to interference from China, Turkey and Russia. This concern was highlighted both in the report of the German Government sent to the Bundestag which recommended the opening of negotiations with Albania, and by ato the Minister for Europe, Michal Roth.
The geographical location makes the Western Balkans particularly attractive for drug trafficking, arms and people. It is a desolate island in the EU. The region is located between the world's largest opium producer, namely Afghanistan, and the largest market for heroin, or Western Europe. It is becoming an increasingly important access point for cocaine, as well as a place to launder the proceeds of crime.
The main causes of these criminal hotspots
The research identifies three important factors that contribute to the creation of hot spots in organized crime. The first cause is the geographical position of each place that is located near the port, airport and border crossing points, in order to facilitate export / import.
The second factor is economic vulnerability. Many of the hotspots are found in areas that were already economically depressed during the communist period or suffered in the next generation. In some cases, hotspots are found in remote areas: along poorly monitored borders or, in the case of some pharmaceutical laboratories, in isolated rural areas. This type of vulnerability manifests itself in social issues such as high unemployment (especially youth and long-term unemployment) emigration, mental health problems (including high rates of depression and suicide) and population decline.
The third factor, which is related to the first two, is weak governance. Local politicians have close ties to the ruling party and / or criminal groups. Those in relatively remote areas are often underdeveloped, neglected by the central government and dependent on informal economies to survive. The places where these three factors overlap are more likely to be focal points for organized crime
The position of Albania in this report
Albania and Montenegro are important entry points for cocaine that arrives in Europe from Latin America, while Macedonia, Serbia and Greece are for the heroin trafficked through Turkey from Afghanistan. The shipments arrive mainly by container to the ports of Durres and Bar. What is perhaps more significant is that the Balkan criminal groups are active in the distribution of cocaine in Western Europe. Many of the leaders of these groups live in the Western Balkans where they recycle their money.
The Balkans are not only a transit region for all types of drugs, but also an important cannabis supplier. Albania was the main cannabis producer in the region. The main destination of Albanian cannabis is Italy, in particular through inflatable boats. In the past, small planes have also been used. According to Italian authorities, 2017 tons of cannabis from Albania were seized in the 90. Other important destinations for Albanian cannabis are Greece and Turkey, often through northern Macedonia. The Albanian cities where poly-crime is most concentrated are Scutari, Valona, Tirana, Elbasan and Saranda.
Recently the city of Vlora has been shaken by a number of murders that seem to derive from battles for the control of markets outside Albania, as well as revenge killings between criminal groups. It is argued that criminal activity in Vlore and its vicinity has some degree of collusion between criminals and police for the protection of some politicians. That said, the article says there seems to have been a major decrease in cannabis cultivation since the mid-2017 and a significant increase in drug seizures. (page number 6 of the report).
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