The refugee crisis affecting Europe is increasingly becoming a testing ground for people smuggling and organised crime, notably in western Balkan countries, which can fight it only by strengthening cooperation and agreeing measures to punish criminals and protect victims, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in Sarajevo on Monday.

The IOM analysed human trafficking in the region and presented recommendations for measures that should be taken. A regional project to fight illegal migration and human trafficking refers to Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. It was launched before the escalation of the current migration crisis in Europe but its consequences have also been analysed and the recommendations cover it too.

The recommendations call for strengthening cross-border cooperation at all levels, exchanging information, aligning legislation so that people smuggling can be treated as organised crime, increasing resources for migration control, and enhancing refugee repatriation measures.

IOM western Balkan coordinator Gianluca Rocco said attempts were being made to restrict the refugee flow and that the selection of those who could pass provided more opportunities for smugglers, as was happening on the Greek-Macedonian border.

The exchange of information is the basis of all activities, including the fight against terrorism, Rocco said.

Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic said regional cooperation was the key to the solution because no country could handle the problem alone. "Bosnia and Herzegovina has achieved significant results in recent years, but it still isn't enough to be able to say that human trafficking has been stopped... The key is setting up a regional network of experts through the establishment of joint prosecution and investigation teams."

Mektic said that alongside prosecuting the organisers and delivering "rigorous sentences", it was imperative to ensure full protection for the victims.

Italian Ambassador to Bosnia Ruggero Corrias, whose government financed the IOM project, said that this year alone the Italian Coast Guard rescued hundreds of thousands of people, and that one should add to them those arriving by land.

Corrias said this project was not the end and that similar ones would follow, reiterating that without regional cooperation there would be no lasting solution to human trafficking.

He said refugees should not be linked to terrorism, as was being increasingly done following the recent terror attacks and the threats to which European countries were exposed to. That's an exceedingly populist approach which should be rejected, he said, adding that terrorism was a security issue and should not be linked to the refugee problem.

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