The Balkans are safer than Sweden

The Balkans, once Europe’s “powder keg,” has just been crowned “one of the safest [regions] in Europe” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its report Crime and Its Impact on the Balkans. According to the report (full pdf), the region has relatively little problem with conventional crime. In fact: Croatia ...

594839_080530_balkans2.jpg
594839_080530_balkans2.jpg

The Balkans, once Europe’s “powder keg,” has just been crowned “one of the safest [regions] in Europe” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its report Crime and Its Impact on the Balkans.

According to the report (full pdf), the region has relatively little problem with conventional crime. In fact:

Croatia has a lower murder rate than the United Kingdom. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had less homicide per capita than Portugal or Sweden. Romania was safer than Finland or Switzerland.”

But that doesn’t mean Croatia is all kittens and roses. Rather than taking the form of street crime, the report explains, the region’s ugly transition from communism and years of war has lingered on in the form of organized crime networks and illicit trade. The region’s two biggest problems today are trafficking of drugs and humans (predominantly sex trafficking).

About 100 tons of heroin enters the region each year, of which 85 tons are sold on to the West for a gross annual flow worth $25 to 30 billion — more than the annual GDPs of Albania, Macedonia, and Moldova put together.

On the human trafficking front, the UNODC calls the Balkans an “epicenter” of trafficking in Europe. While the report repeats an outside estimate that 120,000 women and children are moved through the region each year, it quickly points out the utter lack of information on the real magnitude of the problem. (For insight into the world of sex trafficking and those trying to fight it, check out this story and this recent essay in FP).

Take-away message: The Balkans may be Europe’s new Mayberry, but only if you’re not vulnerable, young, and female.

Lucy Moore is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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