Slovenia, which this week closed its borders to migrants, will begin accepting refugees shared out among the European Union in April, under its troubled quota scheme, the government said Thursday (10 March).
“This year and next some 567 refugees will be relocated to Slovenia from Italy and Greece. A first group is to arrive in April,” interior ministry official Bostjan Sefic told a news conference on Thursday.
“Slovenia has expressed its wish that most of the relocated refugees are families but we cannot expect only families will arrive,” he said after a cabinet meeting.
The plan foresees the monthly relocation of between 40 and 50 refugees until June 2017, he said. Twenty other Syrian refugees, or two to four families, will be resettled this year from third countries.
The EU adopted a scheme in September to relocate 160,000 Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees from Greece and Italy but only 885 people have since been moved to other member states.
European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference that several member states have not yet offered to take a single asylum seeker.
But he said last week “we experienced the swift relocation of 287 people”, the vast majority from Greece.
“We need to build on that positive experience and reach a speed of at least 6,000 people a month,” Avramopoulos said during talks among EU interior ministers about efforts to tackle Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
Avramopoulos recalled that he had written to the interior ministers of the 28-nation bloc to speed up the relocation scheme which was designed to boost solidarity with frontline states.
“If relocation does not work, then the whole system will collapse,” Avramopoulos warned. But he added: “I am more than optimistic we will achieve this goal.”
European sources blame the delays in relocating people on a series of factors: governments trying to screen for potential jihadists in the wake of the Paris attacks, a lack of housing and education for asylum-seekers, and logistical problems over chartering planes.
They say some countries are setting unacceptable conditions by refusing Muslims, black people or large families, with Eastern European states the worst for discriminating on religious or racial grounds.
EU member Slovenia in recent months allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants travelling northwards through the Balkans to Greece to pass through its territory into Austria and beyond.
But on Wednesday (9 March) it barred entry to all migrants except those wishing to apply for asylum in Slovenia or those with humanitarian needs or people a valid visa. Croatia and Serbia followed suit.
This followed a tightening of border controls throughout the Western Balkans following Austria’s decision in February to cap the number of people passing through and applying for asylum.
This has created a bottleneck of thousands of people at the Greece-Macedonia border. Brussels is pinning its hopes on a mooted deal with Turkey to stop migrants entering Greece in the first place.
A NATO naval deployment in the Aegean Sea, hopes to relieve the pressure. The alliance now has five ships taking part in an unprecedented naval mission to tackle people smugglers taking migrants from Turkey to Greece, the alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Stoltenberg said NATO was pushing ahead with the deployment since it was approved last month.
“There are now five ships in the area, there will be more ships in the coming days, and we also have helicopters on most of the ships, so we are increasing the presence of NATO vessels with modern equipment,” Stoltenberg said.