Balkan Route ‘closed’ after cascade of border shutdowns

Can't leave Greece: Eleonas Refugee Centre, Athens. [Martin Leveneur/Flickr]

Slovenia and Serbia said on Tuesday (8 March) they would place new restrictions on the entry of migrants, putting extra obstacles in the way of those trying to reach the European Union via the Balkans.

The decisions to further restrict routes taken by more than a million migrants in the last year were announced hours after EU leaders declared an end to a mass scramble to reach wealthy
countries in Europe from war zones.

“From midnight, there will be no more migration on the Western Balkan route as it took place so far,” the Interior Ministry of EU member Slovenia said in a statement.

It said EU leaders agreed in Brussels on Monday that member states must enforce the rules of the open-border Schengen area. This means Slovenia would bar passage to migrants except those who planned to request asylum in the country or who sought entry for humanitarian reasons, which would be individually assessed.

EU summit set to close the Balkan route to migrants

European Union leaders today (7 March) will back closing down the Balkans route used by most migrants to reach Europe, diplomats said, after at least 25 more people drowned trying to cross the Aegean Sea en route to Greece.

Only about 460 of the almost 478,000 migrants who have passed through Slovenia since last October asked for asylum in the country, with most heading to wealthier northern nations such as Germany.

Non-EU member Serbia said Slovenia’s decision meant “a closure of the Balkan route” for migrants and said it would follow suit. “Serbia cannot allow itself to become a collective centre for refugees, so it will harmonise all its measures with those of the EU member states,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Croatia’s Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic confirmed late on Tuesday that the former Yugoslav republic, which is an EU member but not part of the Schengen area, will also from midnight apply new rules meaning that only those travelling with valid documents and visas will be able to enter.

At least 34,000 people have been trapped in various parts of Greece from a cascade of border shutdowns further north.

Will Greece become the Calais of Europe?

Greece is at risk of becoming one giant refugee hotspot. The closure of its northern border and the continued influx of refugees from Turkey has placed Athens in a critical situation. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

That has slowed the numbers reaching Slovenia to a trickle. The last migrants arrived in Slovenia three days ago, according to police there.

Nevertheless, the United Nations refugee agency says there are around 1,500 migrants in Macedonia and about 1,000 in Serbia. These people could be stranded by the new border restrictions.

European Union leaders were expected to declare on Monday that they will “close the Balkans route" used by most migrants to reach Europe.

The decision was expected to be announced after an EU-Turkey on Monday where Ankara was asked  to accept “large-scale” deportations of economic migrants from Greece, the main entry point to Europe, and do more to implement a November deal to slow the flow of people into the bloc.

But the summit ended with no agreement, as many heads of state and government opposed Germany's attempt to impose her own deal with Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will return to Brussels for another EU summit on 17-18 March.

Merkel-Davutoglu wheeling-dealing wrecks EU summit

The EU summit which ended this morning (8 March) failed to reach a deal with Turkey to stem the unprecedented migrant crisis, as many heads of state and government opposed German Chancellor Merkel's attempt to impose her own deal with Ankara.

  • 17-18 March: EU summit in Brussels

Subscribe to our newsletters