Brussels summit agrees a 17-point plan to manage the flow of refugees in the Balkans, including more shelter, border registration and increased naval operations
European Union and Balkan leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed a 17-point plan to cooperate on managing the flows of refugees making their way through Turkey, Greece and the western Balkans in a bid to reach places such as Germany and Scandinavia before winter.
The European commission said that among the measures agreed between the 11 nations were that 100,000 places in reception centres should be made available along the route from Greece towards Germany, half in Greece and half in the countries to the north. The UN refugee agency would help establish them.
The leaders also agreed that the EU border agency Frontex would step up its activities on the Greek-Macedonian border to ensure that people trying to cross would be registered.
“We have made very clear that the policy of simply waving people through must be stopped,” Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission’s president, told reporters, referring to agreements to cooperate and avoid unilateral national measures that have contributed to chaos throughout the region.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel, who pushed for the meeting to be convened, said: “Europe must show it is a continent of values, a continent of solidarity … This is a building block, but we need to take many further steps.”
But before the meeting had started on Sunday, the plan under discussion had already drawn criticism for proposing that Balkan and eastern European countries should stop allowing asylum seekers to pass through to other neighbouring countries without first securing agreement from those neighbours.
The Croatian prime minister, Zoran Milanović, said before the summit that such consultation was “impossible”.
The Slovenian prime minister, Miro Cerar, had warned that the EU would “start falling apart” if it failed to take concrete action to tackle the refugee crisis within the next few weeks. Slovenia, a country of 2 million people, has seen more than 60,000 new arrivals in recent days.
The focus of the crisis turned to Slovenia when Hungary clamped down on its border with Serbia, prompting the refugees to switch to Croatia, which in turn imposed border controls.
The plan submitted by Juncker seeks to slow the passage of migrants through the safe corridor that has formed through central and eastern Europe towards Austria and Germany by increasing border surveillance, properly registering transient people, and stopping bus and train transfers to the next border without the consent of the neighbouring country.
“The immediate imperative is to provide shelter,” said Juncker after chairing the summit. “It cannot be that in the Europe of 2015 people are left to fend for themselves, sleeping in fields.”
Nearly 250,000 refugees have passed through the Balkans since mid-September, many fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The plan’s main points
- To increase reception capacity to 30,000 places by the end of the year in Greece. The UN refugee agency will provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20,000 more people.
- To seek additional capacity of 50,000, reaching a total of 100,000 along the western Balkans route and Greece.
- To deploy 400 police officers within a week to Slovenia.
- To step up efforts to facilitate return of migrants not in need for international protection and step up cooperation on repatriation with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Pakistan.
- To scale up the Poseidon Sea joint operation in Greece, in particular the EU’s border agency Frontex’s presence in the Aegean Sea, and strengthen significantly Frontex support to Greece in registering and fingerprinting activities.
- To refrain from facilitating the movement of migrants to the border of another country.
- To set up contact points to allow daily exchanges of information regarding migrant movements.
- To exchange information on the size of movement and flows of refugees. Frontex as well as the EU’s asylum office ESAO will put this exchange of information in place.
- To contact financial institutions including the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to secure finances for accommodation of refugees.
- To step up police and judicial cooperation actions against migrant smuggling, engaging Europol and Interpol in Western Balkan route operations.
- To reinforce support of the bloc’s border agency Frontex at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. To set up a new Frontex operation at the external land borders between Greece and Macedonia and Greece and Albania to focus on exit checks and registration of refugees who were not registered in Greece.
- Working together with Frontex to detect irregular border crossing and support registration and fingerprinting in Croatia.