Merkel criticizes closing of Balkan route | News | DW | 09.03.2016
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Merkel criticizes closing of Balkan route

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticized Balkan nations for closing borders to migrants. In the past 24 hours, four Balkan states have closed their borders to migrants without documents and EU visas.

After Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia closed their borders to migrants over the past day, Merkel said Wednesday the Balkan nations' measures to stop the flow of migrants would be unsustainable without a broader EU response to the refugee crisis.

Closing borders "is not the solution to the entire problem," Merkel said in an interview with public broadcaster MDR. Rather there must be an agreement among the EU's 28 members, she said.

Merkel's comments clashed with a statement by European Union President Donald Tusk, who earlier had welcomed the change, saying the Balkan states were simply implementing an important part of the EU plan to tackle the refugee crisis.

Several hundred thousand refugees and economic migrants have plied the Western Balkan route over the past year, many on their way to Germany after making the Aegean crossing to Greece from Turkey.

The Western Balkan nations have slowly been reducing the number of refugees allowed through their frontiers for weeks, culminating in the closing of borders this week to halt the flood of irregular migrants.

The domino effect comes as EU leaders at a summit on Monday said the irregular migrant flows along the Balkan route "have now come to an end." At Merkel's urging, the summit statement distinctly avoided using the word "closed."

The strategy has left thousands stranded between borders or without a clear way forward. In Greece alone, the number of marooned migrants is estimated to be around 36,000. The restrictions have also reduced the number of migrants arriving in Germany.

Germany is pinning its hopes on a broader EU deal with Turkey, in which Ankara would accept Syrian and other migrants from Greek islands in exchange for EU countries taking some Syrians directly from Turkey.

The migrant deal also includes financial aid to Turkey, political concessions on visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and the acceleration of Ankara's EU bid.

cw/jil (dpa, epd)