For a 16th year in a row, MARRI held its Regional Forum of Ministers of Interior/ Security with the participation of high representatives from MARRI Participants’ administrations and international organizations. The Forum meeting was scheduled to take place in Prishtina but was moved online due to the global COVID – 19 outbreak – making it the first virtual high-level meeting in MARRI’s history. Day before, MARRI Regional Committee held its regular session in order to finalize documents and recommendations to be adopted by the Forum.

On behalf of the outgoing Presidency-in-Office, Kosovo* Minister of Internal Affairs Agim Veliu thanked all MARRI Participants for their continued commitment to regional cooperation through forums like MARRI’s. He also welcomed the support of international partners – like the European Commission, Frontex, EASO, GIZ, IOM, UNHCR, RCC, ICMPD, etc. – which are indispensable for MARRI as a unique regional initiative dedicated to the European perspective of its Participants. “Our region is of particular strategic and political importance in the international arena, particularly in terms of security and migration movements” said Minster Veliu, adding that the region must respond jointly to the global challenges and the “regional cooperation is a key principle in European democratic values, values that should be embraced by us in the region”.

As per previous practice, the June 2020 – June 2021 MARRI Presidency-in-Office was handed over to Montenegro. “Montenegro has defined regional cooperation as one of its foreign policy priorities, and remains strongly committed to improve it through regional frameworks such as MARRI”, said Director General for International Cooperation and European Integration at the Ministry of Interior of Montenegro Tanja Ostojic. “Only through coordinated activities based on partnership, we can contribute to preserving the stability and security of the region”.

While congratulating the previous Kosovo* Presidency-in-Office for the good results, Ostojic commended the work of MARRI RC which continued to assist the MARRI Participants administrations remotely during the COVID – 19 pandemic. “This crisis should serve as an opportunity to improve regional cooperation on migration management and adapt our modus operandi to the new circumstances”. She added that the Montenegro priorities for the upcoming Presidency-in-Office are developed in line with the needs of all MARRI Participants.

All MARRI Participants’ delegations reiterated the importance of regional cooperation in their statements to the Forum. The Minister of Interior of North Macedonia Nake Chulev pointed out that the number of detected irregular border crossings in the region is increasing despite travel restrictions, and those who work to combat THB in the field are directly exposed to the COVID – 19 pandemic. Hence why, according to Chulev, “it is necessary to close the reform process and to complete the planned activities, so that MARRI RC will continue to focus on conducting concrete cooperation, based on clear and unambiguous rules”.

Representatives of international organizations also took part at the Forum as MARRI’s strategic partners. Frontex Deputy Executive Director Berndt Körner highlighted the results of the cooperation with MARRI under the IPA II EU-funded regional programme ‘Regional Support to Protection-Sensitive Migration Management in the Western Balkans and Turkey’. “Let me assure you of our sincere wish to further develop and enhance our cooperation. We are looking forward to an increased partnership”, Körner said.

GIZ Regional Project Team Leader Michael Samec thanked MARRI for the successful cooperation in the past, with hopes to continue with the same pace under the ongoing PaCT project. GIZ is working with ICMPD on the analyses of MARRI Participant THB strategies and the specific results of this intervention are to be presented in the second half of this year.

Drawing on the activities implemented since June 2019, MARRI RC Director Sashko Kocev said that some planned events had to be postponed or moved online due to the COVID – 19 pandemic. On a positive note, he added that the current circumstances pushed MARRI to incorporate a digital agenda and enhance its remote communication and working capacity. The highlights for this period include the launch of the Regional Remote Interpretation Service (RRIS), which is fully functioning as a remote extra-regional interpreter-scheduling solution for MARRI Participants since September 2019. The Regional Migration Data Exchange Platform (WB – MIDEX) – developed by IOM with EU funding – has been handed over to MARRI in December 2019. With support of GIZ, MARRI organized a regional conference on migration management in December 2019, developed a database for regional migration experts and is currently working on a regional migration handbook. MARRI is also a strategic partner of GIZ in the ‘Preventing and Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings’ (PaCT) regional project.

As the highest decision-making body of MARRI, at the current meeting, the MARRI Forum of Ministers of Interior/Security adopted the Prishtina Declaration, endorsed the MARRI June 2019 – June 2020 Annual Report, MARRI 2019 Financial Report, as well as the Montenegro Presidency-in-Office Priorities and the Annual Plan of Activities for the period June 2020 – June 2021.

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*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence

29 – 30 June 2020 – MARRI Committee Meeting and Regional Forum