Thursday

28th May 2020

Fears over humanitarian situation of migrants in Balkans

  • "This is becoming increasingly untenable from every point of view," UN refugees agency said. (Photo: Amnesty International)

Concerns are growing over the situation of migrants in the Balkans, where more Syrian refugees are expected and where people considered economic migrants have been stranded by closing borders.

The arrival of winter, with the first snow falling on the region, heightens fears of a humanitarian crisis.

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After Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia closed their borders Thurday (19 November) to migrants who are not coming from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, hundreds of people have been left stranded down the road, at the Greek-Macedonian border.

They are in tents surrounded by wire fences. Some have begun a hunger strike to protest against the situation, Reuters reported.

“We are not terrorists. We just go for a better life. Please let us go”, was written on one banner put up by migrants, Reuters reported.

The UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) denounced the situation.

"This is becoming increasingly untenable from every point of view – humanitarian, legal, and also safety-related, not least in light of falling temperatures and the risks for children and others with specific needs," the organization's spokesman said Friday.

"We remain concerned by a shortage of places to accommodate people along the route should the movement be slowed down and crowding result," he said.

"There is urgent need to put in place additional reception capacity at the points of entry, to allow for decent and effective accommodation, compliance with child protection standards, assistance, registration and screening of the thousands of people arriving every day."

At a summit at the European Commission in October, leaders of the Western Balkans route countries pledged to create 50,000 places to accommodate migrants, with the help of the UNHCR. 

Before the weekend, the commission said that so far, Austria, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia had pledged 17,000 places.

'Numbers will increase'

As the humanitarian situation worsens, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that more refugees could leave Syria.

"The numbers will rather increase than decrease," IOM's data analysis centrum's chief Frank Laczko told Germany's Die Welt.

The newspaper reported that European intelligence services meeting in Berlin earlier this month warned that a comprehensive plan to address the situation was necessary.

The situation could also be made more difficult after the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November and the current alert in Belgium.

On Friday (20 November), EU interior and justice ministers decided to step up controls on migrants at the Schengen area's external borders. The decision could stretch further border guards and accommodation capacities.

As many migrants are coming to Europe from Turkey, where smuggler networks are active, the EU is still trying to reach an agreement with Ankara about the handling of the situation.

But talks over the conclusion of an action plan elaborated in October seem to be making little progress.

“There is movement, the ball is rolling," the EU Commission's spokesman said Friday.

But he could only add that the EU executive "hope[s] that this process will lead soon to transforming this joint action plan into an effective agreement that can be operationalized and produce change on the ground.”

After their informal summit in Malta, on 12 November, EU leaders announced a EU-Turkey summit by the end of the month. So far, however, it has not been confirmed.

Malta patrol boat 'intimidates' capsized migrants

Alarm Phone, a hotline service for migrants in distress, has released video footing showing an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) boat making dangerous manoeuvres next to people swimming for their lives at sea. Malta does not deny the footage.

New EU migration pact set for start of summer

The new EU pact on migration is set for publication sometime in June. Final tweaks are still underway as commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson says she remains cautiously optimistic on finding a solution to the most pressing issues.

Deaths at sea case raises questions over Malta's role

Malta's prime minister's office is under scrutiny after allegations it gave instructions for a private vessel to push back a boat of migrants from waters within its zone of responsibility, and back to Libya. At least 12 people died.

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