Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

EU mini-summit to 'slow flows' of refugees

  • Juncker (r) speaks to German police on recent visit (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Leaders of frontline states on the Balkan migrant trail are in talks on hosting hundreds of extra border guards to “slow down the flows” of refugees.

The proposal, seen by EUobserver, was put forward by the European Commission ahead of a mini-summit, being held in Brussels on Sunday (25 October), on the crisis.

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The 16-point plan says Frontex, the EU border control agency in Warsaw, is to deploy staff on the Greek-Albanian and Greek-Macedonian border “to focus on exit checks” and “registration of refugees and migrants who have not yet registered in Greece”.

Frontex will help “detect irregular border crossings and support registration and fingerprinting in Croatia”.

It will also deploy, by Wednesday, “400 border guards and essential equipment” in Slovenia.

At the same time, “leaders will ensure a full capacity to register arrivals, with maximum use of biometric data … at the point of first entry into the EU”.

They will also “commit to refrain from facilitating the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region without the agreement of that country”.

The commission underlines that its emergency scheme “does not replace” the “obligation for EU member states of mandatory registration in line with the common European asylum system rules”.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called Sunday’s meeting as tens of thousands of people a day keep coming, mostly from camps in Turkey, via Greece and the Western Balkans, en route to Austria and Germany.

The situation has seen Hungary seal its borders, creating human bottlenecks in Croatia and Slovenia.

It has also seen Austria and Germany threaten to close borders, with Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia threatening to follow suit.

Sunday’s event includes German chancellor Angela Merkel, who expects up to 1 million asylum claims in her country this year.

It also includes counterparts from EU states Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia, and from EU candidate countries Albania, Macedonia, and Serbia.

Serbia

An EU source said that, on top of the commission blueprint, EU states will try to persuade Serbia to host more refugees in return for financial assistance and political perks, on the model of a recent EU-Turkey “action plan”.

There’s less scope for Macedonia co-operation because Skopje is bogged down in an internal political crisis.

But its PM, Nikola Gruevski, who’s under EU fire for failure to comply with anti-corruption measures, is also likely to seek political concessions.

The commission plan notes that “refugees need to be treated in a humane manner”.

But its principal aim is to “restore stability to the management of migration in the region and to slow down the flows” of people in need.

It says “leaders commit to step up their national and collectively coordinated efforts to return of migrants not in need of international protection”.

It notes that “cooperation will be intensified with Afghanistan, in particular in the area of returns”.

It also says if migrants “do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection” in, say, Croatia or Greece, preferring to wait until they get to Germany, then the frontline EU states “may refuse entry”.

Amid increasing ill will between EU capitals, the commission adds that the “challenge … will not be solved through national actions”.

“Countries affected should not only talk about and at each other but also with each other”.

Root causes

Coming into the summit on Sunday, Merkel told press: “We are here to coordinate and [to] make the reception of refugees more humane”.

But she warned that only Turkey has the power to stop the exodus.

Serb PM Aleksandar Vucic said: “We’re ready to take our part of the burden on our shoulders. But we need to see what will be the comprhensive solution to the crisis”.

Zoran Milanovic, the Croatian leader, noted he’s ready to “soft-heartedly accept” the commission plan.

But he added: “The root cause has to be tackled in Greece and Turkey. These are just nice Sunday afternoon talks”.

Miro Cerar, the Slovenian leader, warned that: "If we do not deliver some imediate concrete measures, I believe that the EU all together will start falling apart".

He urged Croatia "not to send people to us without notifying us" and warned of unilateral "measures to protect Slovenian security" if need be.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban said the EU should “put an end to [its] open border policy”.

Having sealed off his own country, he added: “Hungary is not on the route anymore. We are simply observers here”.

Johannes Hahn, the EU’s neighbourhood commissioner, indicated that Russia’s military intervention in Syria is making matters worse.

“With increased military action in Syria, pressure to flee has increased”, he said.

“In the past couple of weeks, in the surrounding of Aleppo [in northern Syria] 3 million people have been affected by increase of military action, which might have an immediate impact for Europe”.

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The success of the action plan agreed by EU and Balkan leaders on Sunday will depend on funding, member state cooperation and migrants' good will. None of them are guaranteed yet.

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