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17th Feb 2019

Balkans migrant route in EU spotlight

  • Mogherini said countries in the region showed willingness for joint action on border security (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU foreign and home affairs ministers hosted a meeting on Thursday evening (8 October) with representatives from the Western Balkans and Syria's neighbors, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, to tackle the tensions arising from the influx of migrants and refugees arriving via this transit route to Europe.

This was the first time ministers have discussed the refugee crisis in this format.

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Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief said after the meeting that the countries of the region showed willingness for a new start in joint cooperation in managing borders, receptions, assistance and flows of people.

The western Balkans route via Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary has become one of the biggest migratory routes into the European Union.

Nearly 400,000 refugees and migrants fleeing war and persecution have arrived in Greece by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey this year alone.

Hungary has put up a fence on its southern border with Serbia and another is currently under construction with Croatia, which has put increased pressure on Croatia and Serbia.

The two countries exchanged accusations and briefly closed their borders in an escalation not seen since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Mogherini said the "tensions are still very fresh and recent, the balance is delicate", but that there is renewed willingness to cooperate.

"The meeting tonight is a new starting point," she said.

The EU foreign affairs chief said that she also talked privately to the leaders in the region to try to diffuse tensions, "to avoid a verbal or non-verbal escalation, that in that part of Europe is extremely dangerous," she told press after the meeting.

The ministers in the region agreed to work together to start a political process in Syria to end the war, and to support neighbors of Syria that have been hosting millions of refugees in increased humanitarian aid.

The ministers also pledged increased cooperation in managing borders and actions against organised crime.

Germany, a favorite destination for refugees, is particularly unhappy that the Balkan countries are letting people through without registering them.

The talks on Thursday also addressed how to help the capacities in the region for the countries to slow down the influx of people.

On the sidelines on the meeting, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland agreed to participate in protecting the southern borders of Hungary and the Schengen free-travel zone.

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