Balkan States Warn on Borders as EU Tightens Migrant Rules

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Balkan governments warned they may close their borders to migrants as European Union countries say they’ll tighten controls to defend the Schengen borderless internal travel zone, a move that could fuel political and humanitarian tension in Greece and Turkey.

Slovenia, a Balkan member of the Schengen area, said Sunday it will tighten immigration rules after Austria said last week it would shut out refugees once a “maximum number” is reached. Serbia may have to do the same, Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told Deutsche Welle on Sunday. Croatia, situated between Slovenia and Serbia, has been notified of Slovenia’s decision and is deliberating its next move, police spokeswoman Helena Biocic said by phone Monday.

“The whole idea is to be more consistent, more precise when we look into documents and verify claims,” Bostjan Sefic, secretary at Slovenia’s Interior Ministry, told reporters Monday. “In this way, we are detecting which persons are not eligible for international protection.”

Europe’s refugee crisis is roiling politics across the continent, threatening to end the free-movement principle that underpins the 28-nation trading bloc and hobble economic growth. With EU countries expecting as many as 1 million migrants to arrive this year -- matching last year’s numbers -- leaders will address the crisis at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The EU has, at most, six weeks to stem the flow of migrants arriving on its shores via Turkey before it will be forced to abandon Schengen and impose border controls that the bloc began dismantling in 1985, Tomas Prouza, Czech Secretary of State for EU Affairs, told Bloomberg last week. If a deal with Turkey to stop migrants fails to produce results, Germany will close its frontiers to passport-free travel as early as March, triggering a “domino effect” of border controls coming down through Austria and across the Balkans to Greece’s northern border, Prouza said.

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