Smuggling of migrants in the Western Balkans

An overview of the migrant smuggling patterns and markets, drawing from the GI-TOC's Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe’s report 'Spot Prices: Analyzing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans' and other ongoing studies in the region.

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Western balkans key indicators

Total Area

218 720 km²

Total Landborder Length

6 298 km

Total Population

17.55 million

GDP Total

$133.8 billion

GDP Per Capita

$7 382.8

Organized Crime Index

Average criminality score


Average State resilience score


More about the Index

Migration overview

Irregular border crossings on the Balkan route

By the numbers, 2009–2022

Since the 1970s, the Balkan route has been a notorious trail for smuggling drugs from east to west. But in 2015, it took on a new meaning as an estimated 1.5 million asylum seekers and migrants – triggered in part by the war in Syria and Iraq – made their way through Turkey and Greece to the Western Balkans and then on to Western Europe. In 2022, around 330 000 irregular border crossings were detected at EU’s external border, from which 145 600 through the Western Balkan route, the highest since 2016.

SOURCE: Frontex, Migratory routes

Number of migrants and asylum seekers

in each of the six Western Balkan countries between 2015 and 2022. (y-axis in logarithmic scale)

Top 4 nationalities (2015–2022)

Albania (ALB)

11 971 in 2020

Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, Iraq

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH)

16 211 in 2020

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Bangladesh

Kosovo (KOS)

1 910 in 2020

Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq

Montenegro (MNE)

2 898 in 2020

Morocco, Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria

North Macedonia (MKD)

41 257 in 2020

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria

Serbia (SRB)

39 648 in 2020

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria

Source: UNHCR reports on refugees, asylum-seekers and other mixed movements in the Western Balkans, 2015–2022


Migrant smuggling hotspots

as of 2020

An interactive map displaying migrant smuggling routes and the prices paid for getting smuggled and travel along the Western Balkans.

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Points of interest


Market size

Estimates of the migrant smuggling markets in the Western Balkans in 2020

How lucrative is the market for the smuggling of migrants through the Western Balkans?

This is difficult to answer because, in addition to information about the total population migrating through the region and the prices paid to smugglers, one needs to consider other variables such as whether the migrants are travelling alone or as a family; additional fees for travel documents and bribes; and how many times a person has to cross the same border before reaching their destination. Nevertheless, by focusing on the hotspots, it is possible to get a sense of the size of the illicit economy.

Total range of €34.8 millions to € 50.2 millions

Latest analysis from the observatory

Global Initiative Strategy (2024-2026)

New ways to think and act

The Western Balkans is a crossroads for the trafficking of many illicit commodities, and it is a geographical hub for the smuggling of migrants who are trying to enter Western Europe.

Read more

The See Obs

The GI-TOC's Observatory of Illicit Economies in South Eastern Europe is a platform that connects and empowers civil society actors in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

The Observatory aims to enable civil society to identify, analyze and map criminal trends, and their impact on illicit flows, governance, development, interethnic relations, security and the rule of law, and supports them in their monitoring of national dynamics and wider regional and international organized-crime trends.

The Observatory was launched as an outcome of the 2018 Western Balkans Summit in London, a part of the Berlin Process.

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