Friday

24th Mar 2017

Balkan leaders pledge to keep out migrants

  • Waiting and insecurity creates tension among migrants stranded in refugee camps

Leaders along the Western Balkan migratory route, which saw 1 million people pass through last year on their way to Germany and northern Europe, pledged not to let the influx repeat this year ahead of a migration summit in Vienna on Saturday (24 September).

Austria’s chancellor and foreign minister on Tuesday urged joint EU action on tightening Europe's external borders and sending aid to countries where most migrants leave from.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The chancellor, Christian Kern, a social democrat, and foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, a conservative, spoke on Tuesday (20 September) in the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York.

"There is now an understanding in the European Union that we have to stop the flow of illegal migrants, and that we need border controls to our external borders," Kurz said, according to the AP news agency.

Both Austrian coalition parties are under pressure from the far-right Freedom Party, which leads in polls ahead of a presidential election in December.

But Kurz downplayed that role of the far-right in Austria’s increasingly tough stance on migration and borders.

"I don't think this is a far-right position. It's a necessary position," Kurz said.

Kern has convened a regional summit for Saturday to harmonise policies.

German’s chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, seen as leaders of opposing camps in Europe’s debate on how handle the refugee crisis, will attend the event.

In the meantime, the EU is gearing up to launch the European Border and Coast Guard on 6 October in Bulgaria.

The border force will pool member states’ resources and help those countries which are most affected by the refugee influx.

In New York, Balkan leaders warned that they are not ready to take in large number of migrants.

Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic told the UN summit that his country is not keen on building walls on its frontiers but also has no capacity to give migrants long-term accommodation.

“We do not want to erect walls and we are ready to show solidarity and take part of this burden, but as a country that faced problem with its own refugees, we do not have the capacity to shelter huge numbers of migrants,” Dacic said, according to the Tanjug news agency.

Croatia's president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said on Tuesday that in the event of a new migrant wave her country could not let refugees pass through, as its borders with Slovenia and Hungary are closed.

"I do not think that we rose to the occasion [last year],” she said.

Secondary movement

Meanwhile, the Greek mainland remains mostly off-limits for the more than 4,000 asylum seekers who have been displaced by a fire in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Greek authorities are struggling to find housing for people who were left homeless after the blaze on Monday night which, according to police, destroyed 60 percent of the Moria camp.

They sought to house around a 1,000 people on ships by Wednesday (21 September), as many returned to the camp after the fire.

The European Commission said on Tuesday transfers from the island to the mainland would be limited.

"To avoid secondary movement to the rest of Europe, that means keeping asylum seekers on the islands for the most part," said a commission spokeswoman.

An EU-Turkey migration deal from March requires migrants to stay on the islands until their asylum request is processed. Those whose request is denied are returned to Turkey.

The Moria camp houses some 5,700 asylum seekers, while Greek islands host around 60,000 people, according to the UN.

Tensions

Aid agencies warn that the slow process of the asylum procedure, and dire conditions in the camp create tensions among those crammed on the island.

Monday’s fire reportedly started when there was a misunderstanding about transfers back to Turkey.

Roland Schoenbauer, UNHCR's spokesman, said people were "sick of waiting" in the camps.

"They don't know when their asylum claims will be processed. Some people feel they don't have enough information," he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

No casualties were reported from the fire, but nine people were detained in connections with the blaze.

Since the EU-Turkey deal came into force in March, just over 500 people have been deported to Turkey, but nobody who requested asylum in Greece was among the deportees, Greece says.

In the meantime, building began Tuesday on a wall in the northern French city of Calais to stop migrants from hiding on trucks heading to Britain.

The British-funded, 1-kilometre long wall will cut off the migrant camp, known as the “Jungle”, which aid groups say houses more than 10,000 people.

Austria drafts anti-asylum law

Austrian lawmakers are set to pass a law that would prevent people from applying for asylum once a self-prescribed upper limit has been reached.

EU agrees new border guard agency

A new EU border and coast agency should become operational by the end of summer or start of autumn. It will need a country's consen to deploy guards.

New EU border agency to 'stress test' member states

Frontex, the EU border agency, is set to morph in a much more powerful European border and coast guard agency. EU states are set to come under its scrutiny before the end of the year.

French candidates avoid EU debate

In their first TV debate, the main candidates for the April election only briefly discussed the country's EU policies, with far-right Le Pen and centrist Macron taking aim at each other.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  2. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  4. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  5. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  6. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  8. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  9. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  10. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  11. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  12. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge Juncker not to renew glyphosate licence
  2. Poland and Greece talk tough before Rome summit
  3. Birthday wishes to the European Union
  4. MEPs set out to give posted workers equal pay
  5. Hohe Cyber-Bedrohung für Frankreichs Wahlen
  6. 'No zero terror risk', EU security chief warns
  7. UN could step in where EU fails in child migrant protection
  8. May: London attacker was known to the police

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  3. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  4. UNICEFNew Law in Hungary on Detention of Migrant Children Raises Alarm
  5. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  7. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  8. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  9. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  11. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels