In Turkey, a kilogram of Number 4 (92 % pure) heroin can be obtained for between 12.000 and 31.000 US dollars; in Germany, the same kilo costs 40.000 US dollars and up, and in Norway, over 160.000 US dollars. Such a high profit margin is a constant source of temptation both for the traffickers and the corrupted law enforcement officials. On the same note, crimes frequently linked to drug trafficking in Europe include the counterfeiting of goods, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in weapons, and trafficking in human beings .
The latter in its different expressions, sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forced begging, forced and servile marriages, illegal adoptions as well as trafficking in human beings for the removal of organs, has emerged as a highly profitable and widespread criminal activity for organised transnational organised crime in the European Union. According to the International Labour Organization, trafficking in persons is the second highest source of illegal income in the world after drugs trafficking.
According to Europol, in 2015 migrant smuggling networks offering facilitation services to reach or move within the EU generated an estimated EUR 4.7 billion to EUR 5.7 billion in profit. Further, an OSCE study reported studies showing that «prostitution can result in a return on investment ranging from 100 per cent to 1,000 per cent». That is why Criminal networks are substantially increasing their involvement in migrant smuggling and are offering and providing facilitation services for travelling to the EU.
Transnational crime networks have a long history of presence in the Balkans, and include cigarette, heroin, and arms trafficking that predate the collapse of Yugoslavia and are still a concern for European authorities. One of the biggest drug trafficking cases in the Balkans has been the so called Šarić’s gang, a network of cocaine smugglers that operated all the way from South America to the Balkans and to Western Europe. The long-running money laundering trial, started in 2011 and still ongoing, shows very well how deep-rooted is criminality in the region.
A study shows that over 200,000 of the estimated 1 million women who are forced into the sex industry worldwide are trafficked through the Balkans into the whole of Europe. In 2016, for example, victims from Cuba, Gambia, and Serbia were subject to trafficking in Bosnia which is also a transit country for Ukrainians subjected to trafficking in Germany.
The business model has persitently taken advantage of the high level of corruption and permissive environments and the lack of rule of law and prevalent low standard of living and equal opportunity in the region.
Further, technology has been a key component of most, if not all, criminal activities carried out by organised crime groups in the EU and has afforded organised crime with an unprecedented degree of flexibility. The internet, the multitude of online platforms and communication channels it hosts have been a key enabler of criminal activity and plays a role in all types of criminality. Inthis respect, the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, highlighted that the internet is being used to facilitate the international drug trafficking business, refering to organised crime groups using cyber-attacks to access secure data giving them the location and security details of containers in the port of Antwerp. Furthermore, the encrypted network darknet is becoming a busy market place where users get drugs posted to them after paying in a cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. For the time being, drug trafficking over the darknet is still relatively small in scale and concentrated in developed countries, therefore significantly large, staffintensive, drug distribution networks are still operating in cities across Europe.
According to the Budapest Group the most southern route crossed by the human flows coming from Eastern Europe goes through Bulgaria and Romania, then Hungary and Austria, through a famous route among traffickers and criminal groups which links Budapest to Vienna, or Czech Republic eventually reaching Germany. Another route links Bulgaria to Greece, FYROM and Albania, to ultimately reach Italy or other Western European states, while Bulgaria became a transit country to reach Turkey mainly from the former Soviet states, from where Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and Chechen women are smuggled for prostitution.
While the countries of origin of the illicit traffickings are different, being Afghanistan for heroin, Latin America for cocaine, and several countries from Asia to Africa, to the same South-Eastern European ones for the trafficking in humans, the Balkan Route continues to cross all the countries of the region to provide illicit markets.
Serbian nationals, primarily men, are subjected to forced labor in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry, in European countries (including Azerbaijan, Slovenia, and Russia) and the United Arab Emirates. Women are subjected to sex trafficking by Serbian criminal groups in neighboring countries and throughout Europe, particularly Austria and Germany. Above all, thousands of migrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries transiting through or stranded in Serbia are vulnerable to trafficking within Serbia.
Most migrant smuggling networks are composed of various nationalities involving both EU and non-EU nationals. More specifically, the Eurostat collection of data on trafficking in human beings, highlight that the vast majority of those registered as being prosecuted for trafficking in human beings come from the EU Member States. Namely, the majority of suspected traffickers with an EU citizenship in the three reference years 2010-2012 are from Bulgaria and Romania. The most frequent non-EU citizenship in the three years, was Nigeria (mostly reported in Italy and Germany), followed by Turkey (mostly reported in Germany), Albania (Greece and Belgium) and Brazil (Spain). Over the same time, of the registered victims confirmed as EU citizens, the top 5 countries of citizenship were Bulgaria, Romania, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland while the top 5 non-EU countries of citizenship of registered victims were: Nigeria, Brazil, China, Viet Nam and Russia.
In this respect, Bulgaria remains one of the primary source countries of human trafficking in the EU. The government and NGOs report a steady rise in Bulgarian men subjected to labor trafficking. Bulgarian women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, as well as in Europe, and the Middle East. Bulgarian men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor in other European states, predominantly in agriculture, construction, and the service sector. Bulgarian children and adults with disabilities are forced into street begging and petty theft within Bulgaria and in Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Romanian girls are subjected to sex trafficking in Bulgaria.
« Terrorists and insurgents increasingly are turning to transnational organised crime to generate funding and acquire logistical support to carry out their violent acts. The Department of Justice reports that 29 of the 63 organizations on its FY 2010 Consolidated Priority Organization Targets list, which includes the most significant international drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) threatening the United States, were associated with terrorist groups ». The involvement of suspects with extensive criminal backgrounds and access to the resources and tools of organised crime networks in terrorism is particularly threatening in light of the fast pace of radicalisation and aggressivness of their terror threat. The links between serious and organised crime and terrorism provides the potential to procure firearms or fraudulent documents, and generate funds through money laundering migrant smugling, drugs trafficking to finance terrorism-related activities. No surprisingly, according to Makarenko, it is the international drug smuggling the field in which these alliances seem to be stronger: alleged contacts have been established between members of Al-Qaeda and Bosnian criminals in the smuggling of heroin.
Violent extremist ideology has taken root among select Muslim communities in the Western Balkans due to influence from the greater Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The countries of the Western Balkans must seriously address the threat of growing extremism, radicalization and returning foreign fighters as a future hypothetical convergence between transnational organized crime, corruption and terrorism, defined by Shelley and Picarelli as “unholy Trinity”, appears as a possible scenario in South-Eastern Europe, where at least two of the phenomena are already deeply-rooted in the territory.
European partners and U.S. should consider investing more resources in initiatives that focus on the development of good governance of state institutions, supporting projects on law enforcement, border security, intelligence, community policing, interdiction, collaboration. At the same time, they should support regional actors in discrediting disinformation and propaganda from terrorists, ISIS, and criminal actors.
 European Union Serious and Organised crime Threat Assesment 2017 Report Organised Crime (SOCTA/OCTA). (The Hague, 2017). https://www.europol.europa.eu/activities-services/main-reports/european-union-serious-and-organised-crime-threat-assessment-2017
 US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, Page 96 – https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/271339.pdf
 E. A. Bacon, Balkan trafficking in historical perspective. In: Transnational Threats: Smuggling and Trafficking in Arms, Drugs and Human Life (K. L. Thachuk, ed.) (2007). USA, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 79-93.
 US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, Page 351 https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/271339.pdf
 Source : US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, Page 103 https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/271339.pdf
 National Security Council https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/eop/nsc/transnational-crime/threat
 Shelley L. and Picarelli J. T. (2005), Methods and motives: Exploring links between transnational organized crime and international terrorism, in «Trends in Organized Crime», vol. 9 no. 2, pp. 52-67.
Colonel of the Italian Army Giovanni Ramunno. Director of the Military Personnel Records Center of Emilia Romagna Region. Comando militare Esercito – Emilia Romagna, European Union Military Committee. Collaborating member of the Observatory against the Terrorist Threat and the Jihadist Radicalization of SECINDEF (Security, Intelligence and Defense) Israel-USA International Consulting Counterterrorism. Giovanni Ramunno is a press officer, journalist (ID 7328). He has participated in extensive deployments in the Balkan region with the OSCE, NATO, the United Nations and the European Union. Colonel Ramunno has a proven track record in both military aviation and the media. As a journalist, I recently worked as an information consultant for the President of the EU Military Committee.