EU calls ‘Balkan route’ talks over migrants as Slovenia boosts security
Mini-summit to seek ‘immediate operational action’ on crisis
A mounted policeman leads a group of migrants near Dobova, Slovenia. The country has moved to tighten security to cope with a surge of migrants arriving from the Balkans. Photograph: Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters
Slovenia has moved to beef up security to cope with a surge of migrants arriving from the Balkans, as the European Union invited the region’s leaders for talks on “immediate operational action” to ease the continent’s refugee crisis.
More than 25,000 migrants have arrived in Slovenia since Saturday, at a rate far faster than it said it could cope with, prompting officials to accuse Croatia of dumping thousands of people on the border between the ex-Yugoslav states and pointing them west.
Croatia says Slovenia should speed up its registration of migrants, and states further south should restrict the flow of asylum seekers.
Fire ripped through a transit camp for migrants yesterday in Brezice, near Slovenia’s border with Croatia, causing no injuries but destroying more than 20 tents, and tension flared as about 1,000 migrants surged through police lines into Austria, before being persuaded to return to wait for buses.
In the early hours of yesterday, parliament in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, passed legislation to allow the army to control the country’s borders autonomously, after working earlier this week in conjunction with the nation’s police.
Slovenia’s government said it would also seek to boost numbers of police reservists and rehire some retired officers, five days after Hungary sealed its southern border, forcing migrants to take a new route between Croatia and Austria.
“First and foremost is the safety of our citizens, and we have to ensure that with controlled migration,” said Slovenian police commissioner Marjan Fank.
The small state of two million people has also requested police reinforcements from other EU countries, as the 28-nation bloc continues to struggle to co-ordinate an effective response to the continent’s worst refugee crisis since the second World War.
“In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater co-operation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action,” the office of EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday.
“Juncker has therefore called a leaders’ meeting on October 25th to discuss the refugee flows along the western Balkans route” and search for “common operational conclusions which could be immediately implemented.”
The leaders of Serbia and Macedonia have been invited to Brussels to take part in Sunday’s talks, along with their counterparts from Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia – the countries migrants cross on their way from the Middle East to western Europe, or may transit if the route changes again.
Hungary has taken the toughest line on the crisis by building security fences along its border with Serbia and Croatia, and insisted yesterday that it had no intention of relaxing what it calls a vital measure to protect the EU’s Schengen zone of “passport-free” travel.
“Hungary has made it abundantly clear...that it does not support any proposal to open corridors on the border sections closed in the south or to provide means of transport for migrants within the Schengen zone,” Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said, after talks between regional police chiefs in Vienna.