Juncker calls EU-Balkans mini-summit over refugee crisis

Jean-Claude Juncker has put the Polish issue on the College agenda. [European Commission]

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has called a mini-summit in Brussels for Sunday (25 October) to tackle the migrant crisis along the Western Balkans route, his office said.

The leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia will meet their counterparts from non-EU states Macedonia and Serbia, Juncker’s office stated on Wednesday (21 October).

“In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the Western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action,” a statement said.

“Juncker has therefore called a leaders’ meeting on 25 October to discuss the refugee flows along the western Balkans route,” following discussions with several leaders, the statement added.

EU interior ministers will then hold an emergency meeting on the migration crisis on 9 November. Two days later, EU leaders are due to meet counterparts from Africa and the Middle East at a summit in Malta to discuss ways to control migration flows.

An unprecedented number of people, mainly fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are travelling through Turkey, Greece and the Western Balkans, seeking new lives in Germany and other EU states.

Slovenia under pressure

Tensions have built along the migrant trail after Hungary shut its borders, diverting the flow west to Slovenia, which in turn has also limited arrivals, along with Croatia. Since Saturday (17 October), more than 21,455 migrants have arrived in Slovenia, a nation of two million people.

In response to the crisis, Prime Minister Miro Cerar on Tuesday (20 October) asked the EU for backup from police forces in other EU countries and extra equipment for its own officers.

The Slovenian parliament also amended the country’s defence law early Wednesday to allow soldiers to join border police in patrolling the 670-kilometre (416-mile) frontier with Croatia.

Under the measures, soldiers can detain people and hand them over to police, as well as issue orders to civilians in the border area.

“The last 24 hours have been the toughest and most demanding since the start of the crisis,” the Slovenian government said, warning it was “delusional” to expect small countries to succeed where larger ones had failed.

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos is expected to visit Slovenia on Thursday (22 October) to discuss the request.

Meanwhile, several hundred more migrants were waiting in cold weather near the Croatian border to cross into Slovenia on Wednesday morning, an AFP reporter said.

Berlin welcomes Sunday’s meeting

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Juncker’s decision to call the meeting next Sunday.

“The ongoing refugee crisis can only be tackled if everybody works on it together,” Steffen Seibert told reporters at a regular government news conference on Wednesday (21 October).

Last month, the EU announced plans to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from overstretched frontline states Italy and Greece with a compulsory quota system that was fiercely opposed by some eastern, more hardline members of the bloc.

The plan requires most of the 28 member states to accept a share of 160,000 people from the two Mediterranean nations over two years.

>>Read: Juncker defies EU countries with distribution plan for 160,000 refugees

So far, only 19 Eritrean asylum seekers have been relocated from Italy to Sweden although another 100 people are due to be flown to other cities in the coming days.

Out of the 23 member states that are legally required to admit a share of the human burden, only six have offered immediate places – Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Sweden.

Member states have also been slow to follow up with promised financial help. Out of the €2.8 billion euros pledged at an emergency EU summit on September 23, only about €474 million has materialised.

>>Read: Leaders decide to strengthen EU's external borders

  • 25 October: Mini-summit between Commission President Juncker and some EU leaders in Brussels.
  • 9 November: EU interior ministers hold emergency meeting on the migration crisis.
  • 11-12 November: EU leaders meet counterparts from Africa and the Middle East at a summit in Malta to discuss ways to control migration flows.

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