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Round table on the topic: "Peace, Security and Countering Terror and Organized Crime Today", Sofia, Marinela Hotel, Vitosha Hall, January 13, 2024. (part one)

On January 13, 2024, a round table was held in Sofia on the topic: "Peace, security and opposition to terror and organized crime today", organized by initiative of the IISC management.

The forum was opened by the chairman of the general assembly of the institute, Mr. Rumen Petkov. In his opening words, he welcomed the present members of the association: Prof. Svetla Toshkova - chairman of the board of IISC, prof. Dimitar Dimitrov - rector of UNWE, Mr. Dragutin Mate (Slovenia), Mr. Ljubomir Mihajlovski (Macedonia), Mr. Ely Karmon (Israel), as well as the guests who honored the event: Mrs. Elena Yoncheva, ambassador Goran Ionov, ambassador Chavdar Minchev, ambassador Andrey Karaslavov and other representatives of the Bulgarian diplomatic society, Mr. Pargov - Chairman of SINPI etc.

Mr. Petkov introduced the newly admitted members of the Institute through brief biographical information: Mrs. Vaska Penkova - security expert, Mr. Aurel Georgescu - former police attaché of Romania in Bulgaria and Mrs. Albena Valcheva - executive secretary of IISC.

Mrs. Toshkova was presented as the chairperson of the forum, who announced the main topics for discussion:

• Fight against drugs (following the report of the United Nations drug control office);

• Migration flow and effective opposition to terror and organized crime;

• Wars and diplomacy – report of the Bulgarian diplomatic society.

At the beginning of the round table, the floor was given to Mr. Dragutin Mate, who presented his presentation on the topic: "Migration flows and the effective opposition to terror and organized crime" (you can see the presentation here).

Mr. Mate (Minister of the Interior of Slovenia 2004-2008), emphasized the sharp increase in migration in the last year - by 66% across the sea and land borders, and for the Balkan route alone the growth was 110%. This is the largest migrant wave since 2016, also assisted by organized criminal terrorist organizations, he pointed out. This migratory pressure is one of the main reasons for the delayed accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area.

Mr. Mate outlined 5 main themes in his presentation:

1. The risk of illegal migration 2023-2024:

- Characteristics of the people entering Europe: mainly persons from Syria, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Bangladesh, etc.

- The lack of solutions by the EU to deal with migrants, including the lack of mechanisms for their return to their countries of origin.

- Main migrant routes: overland route through the Balkans (including the route through Greece, North Macedonia, Albania and Serbia); Eastern Mediterranean route; Central Mediterranean Route and Western Route.

2. The link between Islamic terrorists and organized crime: Over 90% of illegal migration is controlled by organized crime. Traffickers profits are billions of euros per year. Islamic terrorist groups are exploiting this situation. After ISIS entered Aleppo and took control of official institutions, they captured thousands of blank real passports, which they filled with false information - names and photos.

3. The influence of radical ideology on illegally arrived people at the most tense points: radical preachers had a large community in Austria and with their help is organized the movement of jihadist groups from Europe to conflict points such as Syria, Iraq through their own roads and channels through Turkey, and from there - to the site of the military conflict. Now these same channels are being used to return the same jihadists back to Europe and to the countries they potentially came from.

In recent years, Europe has seen radicalization, the rise of a number of Nazi movements such as “Blood and Honor”. Many fighters from the western Balkans have gone to Ukraine. Some of them are fighting on the Russian side and others on the Ukrainian side. Some of them have extensive experience from the time of the conflict in Bosnia and other military conflicts.

4. Examining a specific event: The terrorist attack in Vienna in 2020 and the connection with Slovenia.

The inefficient and poorly coordinated work of judicial authorities in Europe complicates the situation. A typical example is the case of the Albanian citizen Fazulai in Austria. He kills four people and injures twenty-three during an attack. The weapon he used was sold to him by a Slovenian citizen. During the course of the investigation, it was established that the person in question was selling both weapons and drugs. Due to an error by the prosecution, the fact that a weapon was sold to a jihadist was excluded from the indictment. Thus, he got away unpunished for his actions.

5. The future of Schengen.

It is clear that the migration pressure will continue and will become greater due to the many conflicts, that are close to Europe. It must be said, that the measures taken by the EU countries are not enough. There is a new European pact for migration, but it would not come into force until 2026. This is a long period of time during which many more problems will arise.

During this time, 6-7 EU countries restart their border controls - national measures to deal with the level of threats from terrorism and illegal migration.

According to Mr. Mate, Bulgaria and Romania are missing opportunities for full Schengen entry - both together and separately. "You have a common internal border, it would be good to discuss and together to create an agreement on its operation. We have an internal border with Austria, but even before they accepted us in Schengen, the border was gone. You can do this too. To enter Schengen, all technical criteria must be met. You have completed them and still you are not entering. This is because decisions about Schengen are made purely politically. The decision has to be taken not only from the countries of the Schengen area, but also from the countries in the EU. Although it looks the same, it really isn't because Switzerland and Norway are also in Schengen, but they are not in the EU. Bulgaria and Romania are in the EU, but they are not in Schengen".

When asked by Ambassador Kotsev about the political possibilities for dealing with migration pressure on EU level through a unified policy, Mr. Mate said: "The issue of migration has been on the agenda in the EU since 2000. For 23 years we have been looking at this issue, but each side has a different approach and motivation for its position."

To a question from Mrs. Elena Yoncheva about the new European migration pact, Mr. Mate stated: "One of the most important points in this new pact is finding a solution for the easy return of migrants to their countries of origin and how to do this immediately on the border. Yes, Europe needs migrants, but not illegal migrants. Issuance of permits to Europe should be done through our embassies, in the countries where the refugees are from, not at the EU border when it is too late. There has always been and will be illegal migration, but now the number of illegal migrants is colossal. They are abusing the European refugee system."

After the discussion on the first topic, Ms. Toshkova gave the floor to Dr. Ely Karmon, senior researcher at the International Counter-Terrorism Institute in Herzliya, Israel, member of the IISC General Assembly. He presented his presentation on the topic: "Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza - from the local to the regional to the global" (the presentation can be seen here).

Mr. Karmon commented the security in the context of the military conflict in Gaza, describing the Hamas attack as "the biggest pogrom against Jews since World War II." This is also the reason why the Israeli government has launched a full-scale war aimed at destroying the military power of Hamas, adding that the events in the Gaza Strip are part of a series of military outbreaks in the region and the world. He described the conflict in Gaza as local, but with the risk of becoming regional. “On October 7. 2023, 3.000 Hamas terrorists broke through the world's most technologically advanced $2 billion fence. They penetrated through 20 places and entered Israeli territory. 22 kibbutzim and 2 towns were almost completely destroyed. From an Israeli perspective, this is a colossal operational and strategic intelligence failure."

Dr. Karmon provided information on the constructed network of tunnels under all of Gaza. The tunnels have a length of nearly 500 km, located not only under the city of Gaza, but under the entire strip. Very well equipped, reminding of the Tel Aviv metro tunnels. Both people and munitions were transported by car in the tunnels. Two rocket factories were found 60 meters underground. This also explains why the Israeli army has been unable to deal with the group in its full-scale war for so long.

Dr. Karmon also drew attention to the situation in the Red Sea and the place of the Houthis in the regional conflict. Their importance to shipping sea routes and military actions by the coalition USA, UK, Egypt, Netherlands and other countries.

In the discussion part after Mr. Karmon's report, Mr. Rumen Petkov emphasized: "The solution to this military conflict is peace and a quick cessation of hostilities. We are extremely disturbed that in the last three months more than 25,000 civilians have been killed in the territory of the Gaza Strip, 7 or 8 thousand of them being children. We categorically express all our outrage at Hezbollah's abhorrent act of terrorism against Israel, pointing that killing people is not an act normal dealing in the twenty-first century!”.

         Mr. Aurel Georgescu, who worked as a police attaché of Romania in Bulgaria during the accession processes of the two countries to the EU, commented on the humiliating partial accession to Schengen, pointing out that the technical conditions were met already in 2011. "Romania and Bulgaria are going together in the processes of full accession and that's how it should be, this is a guarantee of success in cooperation," he said. "If we are not together we will not succeed. Our voice would be heard if we had a united opinion on the Schengen area".

According to Mr. Georgescu, the best approach that Bulgaria and Romania can take in their common goal of full Schengen is joint coordination and action. All actions should be politically directed from the largest to the smallest member country of both the Schengen area and the European Union. (part two follows)

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