Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Eastern EU leaders to urge Balkan border clamp down

A handful of eastern EU states are seeking to ramp up border controls in the Balkans to stem migration inflows from Greece.

The move, set to be discussed on Monday (15 February) in Prague by the so-called Visegrad Four, is likely to provoke German opposition.

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Composed of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, the Visegrad group wants to prevent refugees and migrants from taking the Western Balkan route towards mainland EU.

German authorities have said the planned border blockades would put Greece under greater pressure.

The vast majority of people leaving Turkey to seek international protection land on Greek Aegean islands.

Most then attempt to cross into Macedonia before heading further north to seek asylum in Germany or Austria.

But Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka told Reuters on Sunday that EU agreements with Turkey to better manage and minimise the flows have yet to deliver results.

"The Visegrad Four (V4) realises how important it is to focus on the west Balkan route and show solidarity with the west Balkan countries and help them with protection of their borders," he said.

Both Macedonia and Bulgaria have been invited to attend the V4 meeting in Prague with Hungary lobbying to get Bulgaria admitted into the passport-free Schengen zone.

Greece, for its part, said it tried to manage the flows and provide border security.

“We made mistakes, we were confused, we didn’t know how to work with this new phenomenon; we had delays. But if someone wants xenophobia to prevail and the lack of reason, one has to find a scapegoat and for some people, it is Greece,” said Greece's minister in charge of migration policy Yiannis Mouzalas, reports ANA-MPA news agency.

The EU last week demanded Greece sort out its border and migration management methods at the risk of extending internal border controls in the Schengen zone to two years.

Slovenia's PM Miro Cerar had also announced in January broader plans to bolster the Macedonian border with Greece.

"All European countries should provide Macedonia with the maximum assistance, we should deploy police officers, we should provide equipment," he had said in January.

Now Ljubljana announced on Sunday it would impose a limit on the number of asylum seekers and refugees allowed to enter Austria.

Fears are mounting that bottlenecks could appear along the route once Austria imposes a migration cap.

Vienna had earlier said it would accept only 37,500 asylum claims this year, down from around 90,000 in 2015. It also wants to deport a minimum of 12,500 people.

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