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EU's Tusk demands closure of Balkan route

September 24, 2016

European leaders have met in the Austrian capital to find a common solution to the wave of migration to the continent. The European Council's president has called for restoring control over the EU's external borders.

European leaders in Vienna
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C.Bruna

European Council President Donald Tusk on Saturday demanded reassurances that the route used by some one million migrants in 2015 to reach wealthier EU nations through the western Balkans was closed "for good" in a statement upon arriving in Vienna for a summit on migration.

"Since the first days of the migration crisis, I have had no doubt that the main key to its resolution is restoring effective control of the EU's external borders," Tusk said in a statement upon arriving at a high-profile migration summit in Vienna.

"Obviously, an essential precondition for achieving this goal is close cooperation with our partners in the Balkans and Turkey," he said. "(But) we need to confirm - politically and in practice - that the Western Balkan route of irregular migration is closed for good."

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, who is hosting the talks, said the EU needed to "accelerate" momentum towards ending the continent's worst migration crisis since World War II.

Kern called for "massively improving" the security of the bloc's external borders, alongside a "Marshall Plan" for Africa, which would include providing more resources to aid refugees located south of the Mediterranean.

"At the moment, there is a range of individual measures but no common European line," Kern told the Austria's "Kleine Zeitung" daily.

Migration routes shift

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, known for her "open door" policy for migrants fleeing conflict, attended the talks in Vienna, along with Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has been a vocal critic of her migration policy.

While Germany is still set to process over a million asylum applications in 2016, the number of migrants traveling through the so-called Balkan route has dwindled to a trickle after Austria pressured countries to close their borders to asylum seekers.

But the route's closure has shifted migration from the Aegean Sea to the central Mediterranean, with Italy receiving more than 110,000 migrants in 2016, many arriving via Libya. Nearly 3,000 people have died attempting the dangerous voyage.

In Vienna, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos demanded that any solution to the EU's migration wave be based on "humanity and dignity."

"Solidarity is not a la carte," he said, criticizing the bloc's member states of failing to produce a common migration policy.

The meeting in Vienna included leaders from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.

ls/jm (dpa, AFP)


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