Balkan states to introduce more anti-migrant controls
Over a dozen European interior ministers vowed to impose more measures to curtail migrants from using the Western Balkan routes in their efforts to seek better lives outside Greece.
Austrian-led efforts to shut down borders throughout the Western Balkans last year managed to cut the numbers of people reaching EU states further north.
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But ministers on Wednesday (8 February) in Vienna said they would come up with additional plans in April as many still continue to travel through the former Yugoslav countries with help from smugglers.
"We're sending a signal to the traffickers with this conference that there will be no illegal migration to Europe," Austrian interior minister Wolfgang Sobotka told reporters.
Sobotka did not elaborate on details of the plans following talks with his counterparts from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Serbia.
Some 60,000 people are stranded in Greece following last year's border shutdown with Macedonia. Many in the camps and on the islands are enduring dire conditions.
EU states behind relocation promises
With EU states reneging on their commitments to relocate people from Greece, asylum seekers and migrants are turning to smugglers for help.
Member states had committed in September 2015 to relocate up to 160,000 people from Italy and Greece by the end of this year.
But relocation figures published by the European Commission on Wednesday indicate only 8,766 people have been removed from Greece. Another 3,200 were relocated from Italy.
Austria, Hungary and Poland have not relocated anyone. The EU commission has so far refused to threaten legal action against EU states for not meeting their relocation targets.
Instead, the commission recently announced that EU states would be able to start sending people back to Greece as of mid-March.
"Asylum seekers need to know that they cannot relocate themselves and that if they do so, they will be sent back," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters in December.
He also said the transfers to Greece would only work if "other member states do their part in picking up the pace of relocation."
The commission wants EU states to start relocating at least 2,000 every month from Greece and another 1,000 from Italy.
By April, it wants them to further increase this to 3,000 per month from Greece and 1,500 from Italy.
Member states suspended transfers to Greece under the so-called Dublin rules following a European Court of Human Rights in 2011 on the inhumane conditions in its asylum centres.
The commission is set to present its next report on relocation in March.