Since the start of the year, more than 7,200 migrants have been registered who have passed through Montenegro on their journey to EU countries, data released by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on Friday indicate.
The head of IOM in Montenegro Dusica Zivkovic told the RTCG public broadcaster that migrants do not stay in the country for more than a week.
"Since the beginning of the year more than 7,200 migrants have registered and passed through Montenegro and continued on their journey toward Bosnia and Herzegovina or toward Serbia and in any case toward the EU. They do not stay long, they stay in Montenegro up to a week on average. A few of them who apply for asylum remain longer," Zivkovic told RTCG.
A recent operation when 12 people suspected of smuggling migrants were arrested shows that Montenegro's police were fighting against all activities related to illegal migrations, especially people smuggling, she said.
"Smuggling migrants is not just a problem for Montenegro but also a challenge that we are all facing," she underscored that it affects all the countries in the region on the way to the EU.
According to official data, since the beginning of the year, Montenegro's police has busted five smuggling rings and arrested 51 people in those operations. Often those arrested have not been involved in any previous criminal activities and Zivkovic believes that citizens need to be informed that helping migrants is a criminal offence.
"What we have now is that people who have never done anything against the law are becoming involved in smuggling chains. There is no awareness that that is a criminal offence. Taxi drivers for instance have to know that the extra money they might earn actually means that they have engaged in criminal activities," she underscored.
For two years now, Montenegro has been part of the "coastal migrant route" (Albania - Montenegro - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Croatia).