European leaders hold summit amid border closure threats

European leaders hold mini-summit as threats from Balkan leaders to seal their borders increase if northern EU countries stop accepting refugees

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta (left), Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, Oct. 24, 2015

Leaders of the European Union along with Balkan leaders conduct emergency talks regarding Europe’s refugee crisis on Sunday as three frontline states threaten to shut down their borders if northern EU countries stop admitting refugees.

European commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for the emergency meeting which included the heads of ten EU nations including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, plus the leaders of Albania, Serbia and Macedonia.

The mini-summit was organized following Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia’s warning on Saturday that they would not adhere themselves to become a "buffer zone" for the tens of thousands of refugees streaming into Europe.

"All three countries... are ready if Germany and Austria and other countries close their borders (...), we will be ready to also close our borders at that very same moment," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in a statement following talks between the three Balkan leaders in Sofia.

But Borisov, Romanian premier Viktor Ponta and Serbian premier Aleksandar Vucic agreed Saturday to press for a comprehensive EU-wide solution on Sunday rather rush to build fences.

"If there are countries that shut their borders and build fences, we also have the right to act timely and protect our countries. But this is not a good decision," Ponta said.

European commission office stated that Sunday's mini-summit was required to foster better cooperation "in view of the unfolding emergency".

A refugee wrapped in blankets as they wait to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border, Oct. 24, 2015.

Over the past few months, non-EU member Serbia has been overwhelmed by refugees making their way from Greece and Macedonia all the way to northern Europe, but both Bulgaria and Romania have not been affected much by the huge refugee influx.

The German newspaper Bild published an interview with Juncker on Sunday, where he urged countries to stop allowing refugees to proceed to neighbouring states due to chaotic conditions.

States "must take care to uphold orderly procedures and conditions," he was quoted.

"The European Commission expects everyone to obey the rules of the game if we don't want to put Schengen at risk," Juncker said, referring to the EU's border-free zone.

On Sunday, Amnesty International warned of a humanitarian disaster if refugees are left stranded at the borders, especially with winter approaching.

“As winter looms, the sight of thousands of refugees sleeping rough as they make their way through Europe represents a damning indictment of the EU’s failure to offer a forward thinking and coordinated response to the refugee crisis,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“The EU has the mechanisms and, collectively, the money to ensure adequate reception conditions to all arriving refugees and migrants; these must be used to end the march of misery being endured by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants.”

"Every day counts," Juncker told Bild. Without action, "we will soon witness families dying wretchedly in chilly rivers in the Balkans."

A refugee wrapped in blankets as they wait to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border, Oct. 24, 2015

More than 47,500 refugees have entered Slovenia while 48,000 reached Greece within the last week as they continue their journey north, according to official figures.

On Friday, Slovenia became the first country to request the assistance of the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism (CPM), calling for assistance after becoming the main entry point into the Schengen zone due to Hungary’s closure of its southern borders with coils of razor wire.

Slovenia asked Brussels for 140 million euros ($155 million) in aid, including police backup and logistical support.

However, it has warned that if no help emerges, its authorities will have to construct its own border barrier with Croatia.

The recent and very apparent split in the EU over how to handle the refugee crisis was once again highlighted in the meeting.

Some European countries view the refugee crisis mainly as a border security issue while others see it above all as a humanitarian integration problem with the need to relocate refugees among the EU.

The Balkans summit was organized to concentrate on immediate operational issues of how to deal with the refugee influx, which mean that it will likely focus on the redistribution option, favoured by Germany and Sweden, an EU official told AFP.

However, some countries fear this option will take the focus away from enhancing border control, which EU leaders collectively agreed needed to be their main focus in a statement released following a summit of all 28 EU members on October 15.

Last week, European Council President Donald Tusk cautioned that Europe had "lost the capacity to defend our borders."


TRTWorld and agencies