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Western Balkan migration route

Western Balkan route is associated with one major migration movement. Primarily Asian migrants who entered the EU through the Greek Turkish land border before moving on to Hungary or Romania via the Western Balkans.

In 2014, the Western Balkan route was associated with two major migration movements. Migrants from the Western Balkan countries of Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania. And primarily Asian migrants who entered the EU through the Greek-Turkish land or sea borders before moving on to Hungary or Romania via the Western Balkans.

Following the advent of visa-free travel throughout the EU in 2009 and the region’s steady economic and political stabilization, irregular migration trends in the Western Balkans region changed substantially. In 2024, citizens of Kosovo will be able to travel to most EU countries without a visa.

The Western Balkans region has transitioned from an emigrant-sending region to a transit zone for irregular migrants arriving from Greece.

In 2012, about 75% of all detections of unauthorized border crossings in this area involved people in transit. Transit migrants accounted for barely 10% of all detections in 2009.

In 2015, Kosovars made up the largest single group of irregular migrants, representing 51 percent of detections. In the second quarter of 2014, the Hungarian Serbian border remained the busiest in terms of irregular border crossings as Hungary is a popular transit country for irregular migrants on their way to Western Europe.

Migrants use three main routes to enter the EU:

  • the eastern route from Moldova to Romania;
  • northern route from Moldova through Ukraine to Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, and
  • the southern route from Moldova to Serbia via Bulgaria and Serbia.

Numbers and nationalities of people crossing

In 2014, 43,357 migrants attempted to enter the EU illegally through Western Balkan countries, representing a 46 percent increase in detections over 2013. The Hungarian-Serbian border authorities recorded a 193 percent increase in detections in the third quarter of 2014 compared to the previous quarter and a 53 percent increase compared to the same time in 2013.

Kosovars (22,059), Afghans (8,342) in transit from Greece and Turkey, and Syrians (7,320) were the top three nationalities in 2014. Between the second and third quarters of 2014, there looked to be a significant increase of illegal migrants via the Western Balkan route through Hungary, with a higher number of detections of Kosovars, Syrians, Afghans, and Palestinians.

The composition of the flow of irregular migrants, particularly Afghans, and Syrians, moving through the West Balkan region suggests sustained, secondary movements of migrants who entered Greece and/or Turkey before moving through the Western Balkans and eventually on to EU countries. The current increase in detections coincides with an increase in the number of irregular migrants coming from Turkey to Greece.

The Western Balkan route is seen as an alternative to the direct sea crossing from Greece or Turkey to Italy, owing to its reduced expenses. There were no details available in 2015 about the price of taking the route through the Western Balkan countries.

Sources: United Nations UniversityIrregular Migration Routes to Europe and Factors Influencing Migrants’ Destination Choices

Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash


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