EU plans to deal with refugee crisis about to fail

A hotspot in Lesbos. [European Commission ]

An EU scheme to relocate asylum seekers from overstretched Italy and Greece could grind to a halt just two weeks after it began if member states fail to meet their obligations, an EU source said on Tuesday (20 October).

The official disclosed that Italy is due within days to fly around 100 asylum seekers to other cities in the bloc, part of a scheme that requires most of the 28 member states to admit a share of 160,000 refugees from the two Mediterranean nations over two years.

So far only 19 Eritrean asylum seekers, who were flown from Italy to Sweden on 9 October. have been relocated under the plan adopted in Brussels last month. over the opposition of several eastern European countries.

>>Read: Avramopoulos oversees first relocation of asylum seekers

“With the relocation of around 100 people this week from Italy, the available places will be almost exhausted, while the number of applicants is increasing,” the source explained.

“There will be a bottleneck if member states don’t pledge places like they said they would,” they added.

The official said only Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden have so far offered immediate places for asylum seekers.

The remaining member states are legally required to take their quotas of the 160,000 refugees, but Britain has opted out of the plan, as it is able to do under the EU’s Treaty.

Ireland, which also has an opt-out, has opted in, and said it will take 4,000.

Denmark, which is excluded from migration issues under the EU Treaty, has said it will take 1,000.

Not only is the EU asking for member states to provide more places, it is also urging them to pledge much more money to help ease Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Since an emergency EU summit on 23 September, member states have disbursed around €474 million out of total pledges of about €2.8 billion.

>>Read: Juncker expects EU leaders to pledge €2.25 billion for refugee fund

Two UN officials coordinating efforts to help refugees in the Balkans, the main route into Europe from the Middle East and beyond, said that the EU effort was being hampered by indecision.

UN refugee coordinator in Serbia, Irena Vojackova-Sollorano, told AFP it was “rather frustrating for us to watch”.

“We are dealing with these situations all over the world in a rather efficient way and in really disastrous contexts … here we don’t have a disastrous context but we have a disastrous non-decision situation,” the coordinator said.

Vojackova-Sollorano and her UN counterpart in Macedonia, Louise Vinton, also warned there was no sign the influx of refugee was slowing down, as many expected with the approach of winter.

Slovenia overwhelmed

Between 1,500 and 2,500 migrants have spent the night of 20 to 21 October at the Berkasovo-Bapska border crossing between Serbia and Croatia, some of them sleeping on the ground covered with blankets, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

Slovenia, meanwhile, is to ask the European Union to send additional police forces to its border with Croatia to help it deal with thousands of migrants streaming into the tiny country on their way to Austria and beyond.

Attempts by Slovenia to stem the flow of migrants since Hungary sealed its border with Croatia on Friday have triggered a knock-on effect through the Balkans, with thousands held up at border crossings.

>>Read: Sealing of Hungarian borders puts Croatia, Slovenia to the test

About 19,500 migrants have entered Slovenia since Friday (16 October), the Interior Ministry said, creating bottlenecks as migrants attempted to find new routes through the region.

Slovenian authorities said some 6,000 migrants will stay in Slovenia but all of them will be sheltered in refugee camps.

At least 12,100 migrants were currently in Serbia, the prime minister said on Tuesday .

About 6,000 migrants had entered Austria from Slovenia on Tuesday, a police spokesman in Styria province said. About 3,000 had arrived on Monday.

“We need fast assistance of the European Union,” Slovenian President Borut Pahor told a news conference in Brussels after meeting European Council President Donald Tusk and EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker.

“Slovenia will formally ask for additional police forces to guard the border between Slovenia and Croatia and for financial help,” he said.

In the last two days, the former Yugoslav republic has deployed 140 soldiers to the border to assist the police, Interior Secretary of State Boštjan Šefic told reporters.

Asked if Slovenia could build a border fence like Hungary, Šefic said he could not exclude the possibility of “safeguarding border crossings with physical obstacles”.

Later on Tuesday, parliament is due to vote on a bill that would give the army more power in guarding the border.

‘We will try our luck’

Over half a million refugees and migrants have arrived by sea in Greece this year and the rate of arrivals is rising with over 8,000 coming on Monday alone, in a rush to beat the onset of freezing winter, the United Nations said.

The vast majority will head to Macedonia and then cross to Serbia looking to reach Western Europe via Croatia and Slovenia, avoiding the previous route through Hungary.

Among the at least 1,500 migrants who crossed a bridge across the Sutla river at the Croatian village of Kljuc Brdovecki and headed for the border with Slovenia, was 35-year-old Taysiir Halaby from the Syrian city of Aleppo.

“I want to go to Germany. We will try our luck no matter what,” he said as helicopters flew over Slovenian side of the border.

Croatian authorities said more than 2,000 people were sheltered in the Opatovac camp near the border. From there, buses were taking them to the nearest train station in Tovarnik or straight to the Slovenian border. 

Subscribe to our newsletters