Thursday

26th May 2022

Balkan leaders pledge to keep out migrants

  • Waiting and insecurity creates tension among migrants stranded in refugee camps

Leaders along the Western Balkan migratory route, which saw 1 million people pass through last year on their way to Germany and northern Europe, pledged not to let the influx repeat this year ahead of a migration summit in Vienna on Saturday (24 September).

Austria’s chancellor and foreign minister on Tuesday urged joint EU action on tightening Europe's external borders and sending aid to countries where most migrants leave from.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The chancellor, Christian Kern, a social democrat, and foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, a conservative, spoke on Tuesday (20 September) in the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York.

"There is now an understanding in the European Union that we have to stop the flow of illegal migrants, and that we need border controls to our external borders," Kurz said, according to the AP news agency.

Both Austrian coalition parties are under pressure from the far-right Freedom Party, which leads in polls ahead of a presidential election in December.

But Kurz downplayed that role of the far-right in Austria’s increasingly tough stance on migration and borders.

"I don't think this is a far-right position. It's a necessary position," Kurz said.

Kern has convened a regional summit for Saturday to harmonise policies.

German’s chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, seen as leaders of opposing camps in Europe’s debate on how handle the refugee crisis, will attend the event.

In the meantime, the EU is gearing up to launch the European Border and Coast Guard on 6 October in Bulgaria.

The border force will pool member states’ resources and help those countries which are most affected by the refugee influx.

In New York, Balkan leaders warned that they are not ready to take in large number of migrants.

Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic told the UN summit that his country is not keen on building walls on its frontiers but also has no capacity to give migrants long-term accommodation.

“We do not want to erect walls and we are ready to show solidarity and take part of this burden, but as a country that faced problem with its own refugees, we do not have the capacity to shelter huge numbers of migrants,” Dacic said, according to the Tanjug news agency.

Croatia's president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said on Tuesday that in the event of a new migrant wave her country could not let refugees pass through, as its borders with Slovenia and Hungary are closed.

"I do not think that we rose to the occasion [last year],” she said.

Secondary movement

Meanwhile, the Greek mainland remains mostly off-limits for the more than 4,000 asylum seekers who have been displaced by a fire in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Greek authorities are struggling to find housing for people who were left homeless after the blaze on Monday night which, according to police, destroyed 60 percent of the Moria camp.

They sought to house around a 1,000 people on ships by Wednesday (21 September), as many returned to the camp after the fire.

The European Commission said on Tuesday transfers from the island to the mainland would be limited.

"To avoid secondary movement to the rest of Europe, that means keeping asylum seekers on the islands for the most part," said a commission spokeswoman.

An EU-Turkey migration deal from March requires migrants to stay on the islands until their asylum request is processed. Those whose request is denied are returned to Turkey.

The Moria camp houses some 5,700 asylum seekers, while Greek islands host around 60,000 people, according to the UN.

Tensions

Aid agencies warn that the slow process of the asylum procedure, and dire conditions in the camp create tensions among those crammed on the island.

Monday’s fire reportedly started when there was a misunderstanding about transfers back to Turkey.

Roland Schoenbauer, UNHCR's spokesman, said people were "sick of waiting" in the camps.

"They don't know when their asylum claims will be processed. Some people feel they don't have enough information," he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

No casualties were reported from the fire, but nine people were detained in connections with the blaze.

Since the EU-Turkey deal came into force in March, just over 500 people have been deported to Turkey, but nobody who requested asylum in Greece was among the deportees, Greece says.

In the meantime, building began Tuesday on a wall in the northern French city of Calais to stop migrants from hiding on trucks heading to Britain.

The British-funded, 1-kilometre long wall will cut off the migrant camp, known as the “Jungle”, which aid groups say houses more than 10,000 people.

Austria drafts anti-asylum law

Austrian lawmakers are set to pass a law that would prevent people from applying for asylum once a self-prescribed upper limit has been reached.

EU agrees new border guard agency

A new EU border and coast agency should become operational by the end of summer or start of autumn. It will need a country's consen to deploy guards.

New EU border agency to 'stress test' member states

Frontex, the EU border agency, is set to morph in a much more powerful European border and coast guard agency. EU states are set to come under its scrutiny before the end of the year.

Serbia-Kosovo talks back on track

After a series of setbacks that almost led to armed confrontation, Serbia and Kosovo are back at the negotiating table with a summit in Brussels.

Opinion

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Opinion

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us