At Europe’s borders stands the Balkan region, one of its cultural hearts. Bridge between our continent and the Middle East, it is crossed by many migrants, in order to reach and enter the EU countries.  Refugees and migrants are desperately trying to move onwards as quickly as possible, for they fear that borders ahead of them will close, as the UN refugee agency affirmed. Running against the clock, they try to escape deplorable life conditions, willing to obtain documents in order to stabilize, possibly in the richest countries of the European Union, where they could have chances to find a job and a stable situation.

Following the latest increase of the refugees flow from the Middle East, the Balkan countries are becoming more and more overflowing and are starting to build up barriers in order to prevent migrants not only to arrive to the continent, but also to travel within it. More and more refugees are indeed arriving to Greece, taking the Balkan road, passing through Slovenia in order to finally get to Austria.

For this reason, 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, the leaders of the Western Balkan countries gathered, in order to discuss migration issue and to possibly tackle the emergency problem.

Eleven countries committed to the agreement for a ‘closer coordination’ among them. The key issue which had to be tackled was to decide the number of the asylum-seekers that Greece should shelter, this because Greece is the country receiving the highest number of migrants, given its geographical location.

No particularly detailed actions were taken, apart from a further will of cooperation. However, the talks at the meeting were not as vague as it may seem, for some agreements were indeed proposed.

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 neighbour countries. Concerning the last statement, many of the participants were extremely dissatisfied with this proposition.

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

During the summit, some clashes among the leaders highlighted the fact that many are the countries which are still not ready to face the emergency.

Building walls instead of bridges

Like many other countries in Europe, Slovenia decided to intensify border controls, due to the unstoppable flow of migrants. However , 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.

However, tensions have risen among the Balkan countries. Slovenia has accused Croatia of not taking care of the migrants and of leaving them in ‘random locations on the border’ not minding how they will get to cross it. Humanitarian organisations and various citizens of the Slovenian Republic did not appreciate the new measures taken by their government; many protests were organized in order 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 Union, which has not been able to manage it. The EU lacked, indeed, of a solid common strategy, but not everything can be reproached to the Union. Member States failed in committing 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

Even if it is the most known, the deathly sea-crossing way from Libya is not the only one used by migrants. Lately, as we said, the Balkan road has often been taken, for it happens to be one of the less dangerous existing. Every year the number of the people choosing to go through the Balkans in order to reach Europe doubled. Many of them prefer this way, not only because of the many deaths in the Mediterranean, but also for European asylum and immigration policies changed and it is now easier to arrive via land and from the Balkan region. However, it is very important to take the right way and to avoid certain sports; passing through Hungary would for example minimize the chance to effectively get to northern and richer European countries , due to the local Hungarian policies.

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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.