- 300,000 refugees have arrived in Balkans this year, UNHCR Says
- EU meeting clinches short-term fixes, wider solutions lacking
The influx of migrants threatening to overwhelm the tiny Balkan nations on the European Union’s southeastern edge has intensified, the United Nations refugee agency said Monday after the trading bloc’s members clashed over how to manage the crisis.
As many as 49,000 migrants entered the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia last week, lifting the number since the start of the year to 300,000, Mirjana Milenkovski of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Monday. The daily average number of people entering Serbia increased last week to 7,000 from 5,000 a week earlier, she said. Slovenia’s police said 76,300 people had crossed the nation’s borders since Oct. 17.
“The influx gained pace over the past week rather than slowing done as some expected,” Milenkovski said by phone.
Europe’s migrant crisis is intensifying ahead of the onset of winter, with EU countries wrangling over how to tackle the expected arrival of 1 million refugees or more who are fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East for better lives in Europe. On Sunday, EU leaders agreed to provide emergency shelter to 100,000 people, following complaints by Balkan countries that said their calls for help had gone unanswered.
Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II intensified at the end of summer after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there could be no limit on granting asylum to those who legitimately met the criteria. At around the same time, migrants began shifting from a route that once led mainly through Libya to southern Europe to one winding from Turkey to Greece, through the Balkan states, and then further on to Austria and Germany.
While the German leader has called for EU states to share the burden of redistributing migrants across the 28-member bloc, many eastern countries complain that they weren’t consulted and that the migrants want to go to Germany rather than stay on their territory. Countries have also clashed over their differing approach to the refugees, with Hungary sealing off its frontiers with Serbia and Croatia, some countries failing to register migrants as required by EU rules, and governments accusing their counterparts of transporting migrants to neighboring countries.
At Sunday’s meeting of 11 EU leaders, including Merkel, in Brussels, Slovenia said neighboring Croatia is sending migrants across its borders with little warning, while Greece complained that Turkey wasn’t invited. The talks did produce an agreement to shelter for 100,000 refugees and a stepped-up registration system.
“We stand before the question of whether the EU will find a solution to this crisis and prove its resilience by finding common solutions and carrying them out,” Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told reporters Monday in Ljubljana after meeting his Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic. “Failure to do that would mean the EU is breaking at its seams, which can lead to its disintegration.”
Greece agreed to provide temporary shelter for 30,000 refugees by the end of the year, with the UNHCR supporting a further 20,000 in the country. An additional 50,000 places will be established by the countries along the Western Balkan route, according to a statement issued after the meeting. Countries also agreed to work together and with Frontex, the EU border-management agency, to bolster controls and cooperation, including between Turkey and Bulgaria and between Greece and Macedonia.
The UNHCR’s Milenkovski said that in the past few days, the number of children and people with pre-existing medical conditions is also increasing, not only from injuries suffered from walking hundreds of miles.
“Croatia has kept the border open for more than two days, which is good to avoid a bottleneck,” she said. “It’s so hard to predict whether the numbers will increase or not.”