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Migration: Slovenian, Italian and Croatian interior ministers to step up cooperation

A trilateral meeting of the Ministers of the Interior of Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, Davor Bozinović, Matteo Piantedosi and Boštjan Poklukar, took place in Buzet, Croatia. The ministers discussed current developments on the Western Balkan migration route, the strengthening of cooperation with the Western Balkan region and the temporary reintroduction of internal border controls.

"The talks were very good and frank. Today we talked about even more cooperation between the three countries, between our interior ministries and police forces, which I am particularly pleased about. Because when we met in Trieste, we set out a path to work together to prevent illegal migration along the Western Balkan route. On the other hand, we are working to prevent radicalisation and terrorism in the region and, consequently, in the countries of the European Union (EU)," Minister Poklukar said in a press statement after the meeting.

"The Schengen area is not working at the moment," the minister continued. Regarding the temporary reintroduction of border controls at the internal Schengen borders between Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and Hungary, the ministers agreed that the measures would be implemented in a way that would have the least possible impact on travellers, the environment and the economy, and in particular on the lives of the people living along the border. "These agreements are respected. Even now that the Christmas and New Year holidays are over, there have been no major congestions at the borders." The minister underlined the political cooperation between the three countries. "All three of us have strongly supported the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area and it is also through the engagement of the three of us that a compromise has been reached to allow these two countries to join the Schengen area. I believe that they will be full members as soon as possible."

The ministers agreed today to work together and more intensively in the Western Balkan region, as the Western Balkan migration route has been extremely active over the past year. The Slovenian police received more than 60,000 foreigners who entered the territory of the Republic of Slovenia illegally. "That is why Slovenia is taking the initiative to bring the interior ministers together in this trilateral format in Brdo pri Kranju on 21 and 22 March. We will host the Brdo process there, to which the interior ministers of the Western Balkan countries will also be invited."

The minister praised the already established and effective police activities of all three countries, including mixed patrols. The first meeting of the three ministers in Trieste in November 2023 was followed by a meeting of the police chiefs, first in a trilateral format between Slovenia, Italy and Croatia, and then, at the initiative of the Slovenian Director General of the Police, also by videoconference with the police chiefs of the Western Balkan countries. "This is particularly important and we want to continue this format on a monthly basis, because a fast and efficient exchange of information between police forces means more security in the region, in our three countries and in the EU as a whole."

Poklukar added that individual countries in the Western Balkans still have a visa-free regime for third-country nationals, which encourages illegal migration from these countries. "This allows third-country nationals to enter the region perfectly legally as tourists and then continue their illegal journey to the EU destination countries." He also highlighted the efforts of Croatia and Slovenia, with the help of Italy, to bring the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The BiH Minister of Security had taken the initiative for Frontex to become operational in BiH, and a political agreement had been reached in BiH. "I believe that further negotiations will be effective in this regard, because with an additional international police force we can fight not only against illegal migration, but especially against smuggling."

The three interior ministers also made a broader assessment of developments in the Middle East, the region and the EU. Next week, the ministers will meet in Belgium for an informal meeting of home affairs ministers while later this week, Minister Poklukar will travel to Budapest to meet his Hungarian counterpart.