Balkan Arms Trade Fueling The Middle East

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have recently opened up an investigative project that delves into the world of corruption and arms dealing, which is fueling the current conflicts occurring in the Middle East.

In a thirteen month period around the period of 2015, at least, 68 flights, traveling from the central/eastern European region, transported weapons and ammunition to Middle Eastern states and Turkey. These arms have supposedly been dispersed to violent civil wars, such as in Yemen and Syria.

Thousands of assault rifles, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons, and heavy machine guns are being flown into the Middle Eastern region and are subsequently helping to fuel these devastating battles.

As the weapon flow continues, and civil war rages on in the Middle East, hundreds of thousands of refugees continue to flee in fear for their lives. In Syria alone, eleven million people have fled their homes since the beginning of the war in 2011.

Yet, European refugee travel routes have consequently shut down.

For Europe, this appears to be a win-win situation, as they are profiting money from wars that are devastating hundreds of thousands and refusing them refuge in a country that promotes safety.

The Syrian war alone has claimed the lives of 250,000 people as of early 2016, a figure that even the United Nations lacks confidence in due to incomplete data.

The countries where this weaponry is originating from is Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.

Since 2012, these countries have approved shipments of weapons and ammunition worth 1.2 billion Euros

With this business flourishing for these weak European countries, it would be risky for them to cut ties with such a booming business.

Despite these goods being exported to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey with approved arms export licenses, evidence insists that officials from these countries are diverting these stockpiles of weapons and ammunition to battles in Syria and Yemen.

Under the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty this systematic diversion of weapons to armed groups committing gross violations of human rights is highly illegal.

Evidence shows that these weapons are being used by Free Syrian Army units (supported by the West), but also by fighters of Islamist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nursa, and Syrian factions fighting for Syrian President Bashar-al Assad.

This arms trade is subsequently fueling the economy of many poor and highly unemployed countries of Eastern and Central Europe, however, it is also costing the lives and peace of many in the Middle Eastern world. It is peace, that is obtained by non-violent means that is the ultimate goal, however, and thus this illegal trade should see an end.

Tamara Bilic