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Balkans wary of EU plan to tackle migrant crisis

October 26, 2015

Scores of migrants are continuing to cross the Balkans on their way to Western Europe, one day after EU leaders reached an agreement aimed to slow the influx. Transit countries have reacted cautiously to the plan.

Refugees in Serbia
Image: DW/D. Cupolo

Croatian police said Monday that more than 13,000 migrants had arrived from Serbia in the past 24 hours, while Slovenian police reported nearly 10,000 new arrivals from Croatia in the same period.

Tens of thousands of refugees - many of them fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - are transiting through the Balkans, seeking to reach more prosperous states like Germany and Sweden. But many countries along this migration route have been overwhelmed by the steep rise in newcomers, particularly since Hungary took the decision to close its borders with Croatia and Serbia.

On Sunday, European heads of state held an emergency summit in Brussels to come up with a plan to help Balkan states better manage the flow of people. Although the meeting resulted in a 17-point agreement, some leaders were skeptical it was enough to make a difference before winter sets in.

"This is a step in the right direction, and now it is crucial to respect the commitments," said Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, whose country has received more than 70,000 people in the past 10 days.

"If that does not happen from (Monday) on, the situation will not improve significantly," he said.

In comments carried by news agency Reuters, Bostjan Sefic, state secretary at Slovenia's Interior Ministry, said his country was planning to use private security firms to help manage migrant flows.

A huge line of refugees walking in Slovenia
Thousands of migrants streaming over Slovenia's border from Croatia have overwhelmed the small Alpine countryImage: Getty Images/J. Mitchell

'There are 80 million of us'

Further north on the migrant route, some 3,500 people slept near Austria's border with Germany because refugee facilities were already full. Meanwhile, shelters on Germany's side of the crossing were also overflowing. German authorities said around 15,000 new arrivals crossed into the country over the weekend.

Europe is grappling with the worst migration crisis since World War II, with more than 670,000 people arriving on the continent so far this year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she remained confident Germany could integrate a large number of migrants crossing into the country. Speaking in Nuremberg on Monday, the chancellor said, "there are very, very many, but there are 80 million of us."

"We can and will manage this integration" if Germany makes an effort from the beginning, she said.

17-point plan

At Sunday's summit, leaders agreed to strengthen Greece's borders to help the country cope with the thousands of mainly Syrian refugees arriving via Turkey. More than half a million refugees have transited through Greece so far this year, many of them aiming to travel ultimately on to Western Europe.

Angela Merkel
Merkel: 'We can and will manage this integration'Image: Reuters/G. Bergmann/Bundesregierung

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said Monday that the EU was ready to extend additional aid to Athens if necessary.

"From the Commission's point of view, we are willing to find additional means of supporting those countries that are most exposed to the refugee crisis and Greece is among them," Dombrovskis told a news conference in the Greek capital.

EU leaders in Brussels also agreed to deploy EU border agency officials to monitor the flow of people along the Balkan route and to set up 100,000 new places in reception centers - half of them in Greece. The 17-point plan also stipulated that no country let migrants through to a neighboring state without prior agreement.

Following the meeting, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said the steps could help bring the situation under control, but he also had his doubts.

"In theory it should slow down the influx and flow of people due to a slightly more rigorous procedure, but under the presumption that everything functions from Greece across Macedonia to Serbia," Milanovic told reporters.

"If not, things will continue as they are until this story is over."

nm/jil (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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