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Juncker calls EU mini-summit as refugees brave cold temperatures in Balkans

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has called a mini-summit for Sunday to tackle the migrant crisis in the Balkans. The meeting comes as Slovenia took drastic measures along its borders to curb the influx.

The leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia are scheduled to meet their counterparts from non-EU states Macedonia and Serbia on Sunday to discuss the challenges of the influx of migrants in Eastern Europe.

An official statement said that European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker had called for a leaders' meeting on 25 October to discuss the refugee flows along the western Balkans route.

"In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action," it said. "The objective of the meeting will be to agree common operational conclusions which could be immediately implemented."

The talks will take place in the Belgian capital from 4 p.m. local time (1400 GMT/UTC) on Sunday. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has also been invited to attend.

Escalation in Slovenia

An unprecedented number of people fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have reached EU countries in recent months, traveling through Turkey, Greece and the western Balkans. Tensions have built along the migrant trail after Hungary shut its borders, diverting people westward to Slovenia, which in turn has also limited arrivals, along with Croatia.

Earlier today, Slovenia's parliament granted its military the power to patrol the border wherever police were absent. Under the measure, Slovenian soldiers would be able to warn, direct and temporarily restrict the movement of persons and engage in crowd control over the next three months. After Hungary, Slovenia has now become the second Schengen zone EU country to deploy the military to its borders during the migration crisis.

Slovenian-Croatian border

20,000 people have crossed Slovenia's borders since Saturday alone

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country presently holds the rotating EU presidency, frowned on Slovenia's decision to increase the military's powers.

"That cannot be Europe's future," Asselborn told the German radio station Deutschlandfunk.

More than 20,000 migrants have crossed Slovenia's borders since Saturday alone. The country also announced plans to employ some of its retired police force to assist in the crisis.

Deteriorating weather conditions

Last night thousands of refugees, some of whom arrived barefoot, were forced to wait in the cold at a bottleneck on the Serbian-Croatian border. Migrants were seen resorting to building bonfires.

"We are humans, like Serbs and Croats," said Yassir, a young refugee from Damascus. "Would they let their own people suffer like this in cold? There was also war here. Don't they remember how it was and how it was when people had to run from their homes?"

Meanwhile the dpa news agency reported that a fire had broken out in eastern Slovenia at the refugee reception center in Brezice, near the border with Croatia. The cause of the fire remained under investigation, but some reports said that the refugees had started the blaze themselves as a sign of protest.

ss/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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