Mon, Oct 26, 2015 - Page 6 News List

EU, Balkan leaders meet on refugees

‘EVERY DAY COUNTS’:The approach of winter is lending impetus for governments in the affected regions to find a solution and attempt to avert a humanitarian disaster

AFP, BRUSSELS

EU and Balkan leaders yesterday held emergency talks on Europe’s refugee crisis amid threats from three frontline states to close their borders if northern EU countries stop accepting migrants.

The mini-summit called by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker groups the heads of 10 EU nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, plus the leaders of Albania, Serbia and Macedonia.

The meeting comes after Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia on Saturday warned they would not allow themselves to become a “buffer zone” for the tens of thousands of arrivals streaming into Europe.

“All three countries ... are ready if Germany and Austria and other countries close their borders… We will be ready to also close our borders at that very same moment,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said after talks between the three Balkan leaders in Sofia.

Over past months, non-EU member Serbia has been swamped by migrants on their way from Greece and Macedonia to northern Europe, although Bulgaria and Romania have been much less affected.

Juncker’s office said yesterday’s mini-summit was needed to foster greater cooperation “in view of the unfolding emergency.”

In an interview published yesterday by the German newspaper Bild, Juncker urged countries to stop handing off migrants to neighboring states in chaotic conditions.

States “must take care to uphold orderly procedures and conditions,” he said.

“The European Commission expects everyone to obey the rules of the game if we don’t want to put Schengen at risk,” Juncker said, referring to the EU’s border-free zone.

The EU is facing record arrivals, with more than 47,500 people entering Slovenia in the last week, which has a population of just 2 million, and 48,000 entering Greece, which has a population of 11 million, official figures showed.

With winter looming, Amnesty International on Saturday warned of a humanitarian disaster if migrants are stranded at borders.

“Every day counts,” Juncker told Bild. Without action, “we will soon witness families dying wretchedly in chilly rivers in the Balkans.”

Slovenia is seeking help after becoming the main entry point into the Schengen zone after Hungary sealed its southern borders with a barbed-wire fence.

Slovenia has asked Brussels for 140 million euros (US$154.3 million), in addition to police backup and logistical support.

It says that if no help emerges, it might have to build its own border barrier with Croatia.

About 670,000 people, mainly fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have flooded into Europe so far this year, in the biggest movement of its kind since World War II.

Most are traveling through Turkey, Greece and the western Balkans, seeking new lives in Germany and other northern EU states, creating a huge strain on those countries.

The 10 leaders from the 28-nation EU who are invited to the mini-summit are those from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden.

However, the meeting has once again highlighted a split in the EU over how to handle the crisis.

A division is emerging between those that see the crisis mainly as a border security issue and those that see it above all as a humanitarian integration challenge with the need to redistribute refugees among the EU.

The Balkans summit is to concentrate on immediate operational problems of how to deal with the human tide.

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