Balkans Crimp Refugee Flow After Greece Warns of Disaster

  • Limits to migrant numbers intensify crisis before EU summit
  • Balkan countries say they can't wait for solution from bloc

Slovenia and Croatia cut the number of refugees they’ll let across their borders, potentially bottling up migrants arriving in Greece in what that country’s government warned could create a humanitarian disaster.

Slovenia told neighboring Croatia that it can accept only 580 refugees a day, a fraction of the thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East who have been crossing the country’s borders daily.

“We don’t know what kind of consequences that will have,” Croatian police spokeswoman Jelena Bikic said by phone on Friday. “But if Slovenia can take only about 500, Croatia also can’t take much more. We expect Serbia to do something similar.”

Greece warned on Thursday that countries shutting their borders to the north would trigger a humanitarian crisis as more refugees arrive on its shores from Turkey. The closures bring that closer and underscore the European Union’s struggle to solve its worst migration crisis since World War II. Leaders from the 28-member bloc will hold a summit next month to try to forge a strategy to deal with the crisis and avoid having to curtail Schengen, its visa-free travel zone.

The moves follow a meeting this week in Austria, which agreed with nine Balkan countries on steps to limit the number of migrants they’ll accept. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government recalled its ambassador from Vienna on Thursday. Greece’s northern neighbor, the Republic of Macedonia, said it has always acted as its fellow Balkan countries, national police spokeswoman Dejana Nedeljkovic said by phone. She said 600 people were waiting at the border to cross on Friday.

No Time

The EU’s external border agency expects as many as 1 million refugees to arrive in the bloc this year, about the same number that came in 2015. The bloc is pursuing a deal with Turkey that would keep migrants there in exchange for a pledge to later redistribute them in an orderly manner among themselves. Still, some states, particularly in the EU’s ex-communist east, oppose taking in more people. European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday the bloc was “heading for disaster” if no consensus could be found.

On Thursday, Slovenian Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar said her tiny alpine country of 2 million couldn’t wait for the EU.

“In the absence of a European solution no measure can be understood as unilateral and unconstructive if it seeks to reduce the influx of migrants,” she said. “At this moment we can all agree that there is no more time.”

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