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26th Sep 2022

Europe's watchdog: Migrant crisis threatens Balkan stability

  • Jagland: "The Court in Strasbourg has ruled that no country can send people back to Greece under current circumstances". (Photo: Council of Europe)

The migrant crisis risks reigniting old tensions among the Western Balkan nations as EU-led policies fail to stem the flow of migrants, says Europe's human rights watchdog.

Thorbjorn Jagland, who presides over the Council of Europe, said panic, the lack of a coordinated EU response, and national agendas have led Europe "to a very very dangerous point".

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"If they [Western Balkans] end up with the whole problem of refugees, you can foresee that this would be very dramatic in a region where there are already so many tensions from the past," he told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (11 February).

He also cast doubt on EU plans to return asylum seekers to Greece from other capitals and possibly place them in detention centres.

The Strasbourg-based body houses the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2011 banned EU states from transferring people to Greece under the strained so-called Dublin asylum rules.

"Greece cannot be a kind of camp for all those who are coming either from Turkey or are being sent back from other European countries. As I see it, it is not a solution to the problem," he said.

"What are they going to do with them? One can obviously not detain them and keep them there," he added.

The EU executive on Wednesday said Greece had until March to report on progress in improving living conditions for asylum seekers so that other EU states could start sending them back to Athens.

"This does not mean transfers will start. We are not there yet," noted EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

But the deadline coincides with a proposal to overhaul the Dublin regulation, which could include forcing member states to distribute asylum seekers in a much-loathed quota system.

Dublin overhaul

Earlier proposals involving quotas have been met with outright derision by member states, raising the likelihood any Dublin overhaul could take years to finalise.

Avramopoulos earlier said that those not entitled to protection may have to be detained in removal centres to guarantee their departure.

But such prospects are likely to add to an ever expanding list of woes in Athens as it continues grapple with an economic crisis, political turmoil, and the brunt of migrant flows into Europe.

Just over 70,000 people have arrived in Greece since the start of the year. Italy, in comparison, has registered under 6,000 over the same time period.

The vast majority that do slip by EU and Greek asylum authorities head towards the border with Macedonia in the hope of asking for asylum in Austria or Germany.

But an increasingly severe border clamp down on the Macedonian side means people who are not from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan are stuck.

Human Rights Watch says people and their families unable to cross are being targeted by gangs.

Should Greece meet Dublin standards then Germany or Austria can start returning them to Greece to complete the asylum processing.

"If one starts sending people back to Greece, if the conditions improve, then a new problem arises, namely shall they be there forever, can Greece really cope with an additional number of refugees?" said Jagland.

The Strasbourg court's decision to prevent the transfer of migrants to Greece can only be overturned if another case determines that the country meets the minimum standards set by the Dublin regulation.

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