The Balkans are a popular migration route as they are the bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Refugees and migrants are desperately moving onwards as quickly as possible. They run against the clock, for they fear that borders ahead of them will close, as the UN refugee agency affirmed.

Following the latest increase of the refugee flow from the Middle East, the Balkan countries are gradually more flooded and have started to build  barriers to prevent migrants not only from entering  the continent, but also from traveling within it. More and more refugees are indeed arriving to Greece, taking the Balkan road, and passing through Slovenia to finally get to Austria.

For this reason, the Balkans are now facing a new migrants emergency and need to take actions to deal with the situation.

Western Balkans commit to tighter cooperation

At the end of October 2015, the leaders of the Western Balkan countries gathered to discuss the migration issue and to tackle the emergency problem.

Eleven countries committed to the agreement for a ‘closer coordination’. The key issue which had to be addressed was to decide the number of the asylum-seekers that Greece should shelter. Given its geographical location, Greece is the country receiving the highest number of migrants. No particular detailed actions were taken, apart from a further will of cooperation.

The leaders agreed on imposing “tighter controls on the flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe“; they also committed to provide shelter for another 100,000 asylum-seekers and to prevent migrants from going to other neighbouring countries. Concerning this, many of the participants were extremely dissatisfied with the afore-mentioned proposition. They indeed criticised the draft statement which would oblige them to stop letting the refugees flee the country, for it would mean a further implication for the countries. Croatian prime minister Milanovic affirmed that “whoever wrote it does not understand how things work, he must have just woken up from a months-long sleep. There will be no obligations for Croatia…not a single one”, as reported by Daily Mail.

Refugees on the Hungarian M1 highway on their march towards the Austrian border by Joachim Seidler - Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Refugees on the Hungarian M1 highway on their march towards the Austrian border by Joachim Seidler – Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, all countries present at the meeting committed to improve the registration system for asylum-seekers, so authorities can clearly distinguish the ones eligible for asylum and the ones who , not being eligible, will be returned.

During the summit, some clashes amongst the leaders highlighted the fact that many countries are still not ready to face the emergency. The summit was convened by Juncker, Merkel and Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The leaders of the 11 countries took part to the summit but not everybody was willing to speak. In fact, Hungary’s Viktor Orban declined to speak when Juncker asked him to do so. In the opinion of Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, the meeting was overall successful not particularly for the discussions, but more for the “chance to speak to each other, to hear each other and to learn a bit about the problems that all the others are facing”.

Building walls instead of bridges

Like many other countries in Europe, Slovenia decided to intensify border controls. However, the Slovenian government not only increased controls, but it also built a razor-wire fence to stem the inflow of the migrants. The measure was also taken in light of the events at the border between Hungary and Croatia. In fact, when Hungary closed its border with Croatia in October 2015, around 180,000 migrants redirected their path and entered in Slovenia. Nonetheless, Slovenian authorities affirm that the border with Croatia stays open, even if the fence is blocking the flow.

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border by Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed - Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border by Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed – Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

However, tensions have risen among the Balkan countries. Slovenia has accused Croatia of not taking care of the migrants and  leaving them in ‘random locations on the border’ not minding how they will get to cross it, the New York Times reports. Humanitarian organisations and various citizens of the Slovenian Republic did not appreciate the new measures taken by their government. Many protests were organised to call for a revision of these policies.

All these tensions and migration-related issues bring up the concerns of the place and the actions taken by the European Union. Many consider this crisis as a clear failure of the EU, which has not been able to manage it. The EU lacked a solid common strategy, but not everything can be reproached to the Union. Member States failed to commit to greater solidarity towards migrants and also towards countries which, due to their geographical position, receive a greater number of asylum-seekers. What is more, member states ended up reducing the number of refugees hosted; this proves their little implication in the crises which they do not consider as theirs.

Different paths, different destinies

Lately, as we said, the Balkans have often been taken for it happens to be one of the less dangerous routes to Western Europe. Every year the number of the people choosing to go through the Balkans in order to reach Europe doubles. Many of them prefer this way, not only because of the many fatalities in the Mediterranean, but because European asylum and immigration policies have changed and it is now easier to arrive via land and from the Balkans. However, it is very important to take the right way and to avoid certain spots; passing through Hungary would, for example, minimise the chance to effectively get to northern and richer European countries.

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Valentina Spina

Valentina Spina

Italian, second year student at Sciences Po Paris university in France, I study political sciences with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe. I am passionate about the Balkan region, interethnic coexistence and post-conflict reconstruction as well as Europe, human rights and international security.