IOM-MARRI Regional Strategic Exchange for Western Balkans Focuses on Coordinated Migration Response

International and Regional Cooperation

Vienna – The Western Balkans sub-region currently hosts thousands of irregular migrants, stranded in a limbo between their countries of origin (mainly the Syrian Arab Republic, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan) and the countries they are trying to reach in the European Union. IOM has been working closely with the governments in the sub-region to strengthen their migration management systems and to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance and services to those on the move.

Yesterday (15/10) the IOM Regional Office in Vienna, Austria held a regional strategic exchange with the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative (MARRI) to discuss these evolving dynamics of migration and the shifting migratory patterns in the Western Balkans, as well as future joint activities.

Regional Director Argentina Szabados led the IOM delegation, which comprised IOM’s Senior Management Teams in Vienna and from the Western Balkans, led by IOM Sub-Regional Coordinator Peter Van der Auweraert. MARRI was represented by the new Director of its Regional Centre, Sashko Kocev. IOM and MARRI have worked closely together since MARRI’s inception in 2004, and particularly since 2008 when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding.  

“The new reality, which began three years ago during the mass movements from Syria, has produced the need for a stronger sub-regional response,” stressed Regional Director Szabados. “It is increasingly clear that the complex situation requires a coordinated approach from the Western Balkan governments and from the EU. Today’s regional strategic exchange underscores IOM’s commitment to assisting all parties further enhance the coordinated management of the current migratory flows, and to ensure we are doing everything we can for the vulnerable migrants, today, tomorrow and in the future.”

The exchange also focused on the ever-important issue of EU integration, as well as the new Global Compact for Migration (GCM), due to be ratified in December. Planning for future migration crises was also emphasized, particularly the importance of adopting a more integrated approach.

“At the moment, people are moving from country to country within the Western Balkans, and then back again,” said IOM’s Van der Auweraert. “Governments are doing a good job to assist and manage, but it is time to consider how a sub-regional response on labour migration management could be put into place to better match realities on the ground.”

The exchange paved the way for similar strategic dialogues on migration to take place throughout the sub-region. As result of yesterday’s exchange, IOM and MARRI plan to co-host a high-level Ministerial Conference in the sub-region which will look at the issue of migrants returning from the Western Balkans to their countries of origin, harmonizing the planning for, and response to, humanitarian crises on a policy level, and any other issues raised by the attending governments.

“Strengthening the already long-standing partnership with IOM, as well as working towards fulfilling the objectives of the Global Compact for Migration, are at the heart of our current and planned response,” said Kocev. “Together we will build future relationships meeting the objectives of the Global Compact.”

For more information please contact Joe Lowry at the IOM Regional Office in Vienna, Tel: +43 660 3776404, Email:

  • Back row: IOM Vienna and Western Balkans senior managers with (front, from left) Peter Van Auweraert, sub-regional coordinator, Western Balkans, Regional Director Argentina Szabados, and Saskho Kocev, Director of the MARRI Regional Centre, Skopje