European leaders meeting for emergency talks in Brussels are struggling to resolve tensions over how to handle this year’s influx of refugees, amid warnings that the continued uncertainly could threaten the European Union itself.
The gathering, a mini-summit of 11 leaders, was called to deal with the mass of refugees taking the Balkan route from the eastern Mediterranean to richer EU countries.
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar warned of dramatic consequences if Europe fails to resolve the crisis. “If we don’t deliver concrete action, I believe Europe will start falling apart,” he said.
The leaders were meeting nine days after Hungary sealed its southern border with Croatia, pushing thousands of refugees into Slovenia. In the past week alone, more than 62,000 migrants have arrived in Slovenia, which has a population of just two million. A draft statement of leaders, leaked ahead of the meeting, proposed to bolster EU patrols at Greece’s borders and to send 400 extra guards to Slovenia.
The summit gathered the leaders of eight EU countries (Germany, Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Slovenia) and three from outside the bloc (Macedonia, Albania and Serbia). German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU should ensure that “the people who are wandering about and living under unbearable conditions receive help”. Ms Merkel added that all the countries bordering the refugee route through the Balkans were signatories to the Geneva convention on refugees and had their own standards of “human dignity.”
The summit addressed practical issues rather than political ones, including a proposed joint distribution of tasks along the Balkan route. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a proposed 16-point plan containing emergency measures, as well as increasing border surveillance, properly registering migrants and stopping transfers to the next border without the consent of the neighbouring country.
But the summit is unlikely to ease the tensions within Europe between those who see the refugee crisis as a humanitarian one, and others, mainly in Central Europe, who see it as a border security one.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic called Mr Juncker’s plan “frivolous and unrealistic.” Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania have said they will close their borders if Germany or other countries shut the door on refugees, warning they will not let the Balkan region become a “buffer zone” for stranded migrants.
Slovenia has asked Brussels for €140m, in addition to police backup and logistical support, and says if no help emerges, it may build its own barrier along its border with Croatia.
Amnesty International has warned of a humanitarian disaster if migrants are stranded. “As winter looms, the sight of thousands of refugees sleeping rough... represents a damning indictment of the EU’s failure to offer a coordinated response,” said John Dalhuisen, director for Europe and Central Asia.
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