Friday

19th Apr 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us