First Western Balkans Strategy Meeting Opens New Chapter in Collaboration

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 Feb 28, 2019

Senior leadership from across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as IOM HQ gathered Vienna this week for an inaugural Western Balkans Strategy and Contingency Planning Meeting.

The group discussed IOM’s past, present and future response to migration challenges in the Western Balkans and along the Eastern Mediterranean route, which brought over 60,000 new arrivals to the region last year.

Argentina Szabados, Regional Director for South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia commented on the substance of the meeting. “For the first time, we examined how we could develop inter- and intra-regional priorities, address the challenges and opportunities presented by an uncertain political environment, exchange operational approaches, and enhance how we coordinate and work with a wide variety of partners.”

The event illustrated that while increased coordination was essential, each country along the extended migratory route – from sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia to Western and Northern Europe – has unique characteristics.

“This shows there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that we need to develop ways to be informed and to understand what is happening right along the chain. In this way we can react quickly, appropriately and to the benefit of our members states as well as to the vulnerable migrants passing through the region”, added Szabados.

Carmela Godeau, Director of IOM’s Regional Office in Cairo noted that “protracted instability will, unfortunately, continue to displace people in the Middle East and North Africa and it is important to examine and understand the situation in countries of origin in order to anticipate the needs.”

Deputy Director of Emergencies Vincent Houver agreed that times had evolved and that more than ever “there is a need for a comprehensive approach”. This theme was taken up by Elisa Tsakari from IOM’s Brussels office who looked at the perspective from the destination countries in a time when anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise.

Crucial to the two-day meeting was a deep delve into data, led by the Displacement Tracking Matrix team housed at the Vienna Regional Office, and complemented by contributions from IOM’s Berlin-based Global Migration Analysis centre.

“There are high expectations on us from all sides,” concluded Argentina Szabados. “Our strength is in the new role that we have taken, and, as always, our proximity and collaborative relationship to the authorities and the migrants that we work with. We are always ready to respond to new challenges, and this inter-regional initiative is a powerful starting point.”