UN predicts 3,000 refugees a day will pass through Balkans

Refugee agency says Europe can handle numbers if correct measures taken

 Migrants rest in a park next to the main railway and bus station in the centre of Belgrade in Serbia on Tuesday.  The number of migrants crossing through Balkan countries on their way northward is expected to reach 3,000 daily, says Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency. Photograph: Koca Sulejmanovic/EPA.

Migrants rest in a park next to the main railway and bus station in the centre of Belgrade in Serbia on Tuesday. The number of migrants crossing through Balkan countries on their way northward is expected to reach 3,000 daily, says Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency. Photograph: Koca Sulejmanovic/EPA.

 

Three thousand migrants a day will pour into the Balkans trying to reach western Europe in the next few months, the United Nations has forecast.

The assessment came a few hours after a suspected arson attack destroyed a sports hall in Germany where some migrants were to be sheltered.

The German police said they believed the fire in Nauen, about 40km west of Berlin, had been deliberately set, the latest of more than 200 attacks directed against migrants in the country this year.

It was spotted just after 2am and swiftly destroyed the sports hall, which had been prepared to serve as temporary housing for about 100 migrants, authorities said. No one was injured in the fire.

Officials throughout the country have scrambled to find or adapt decent places to shelter new arrivals in Germany, where the struggle to stop anti-immigrant violence has vied for headlines with a mass migration not seen in Europe since the wars that ripped apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The UN refugee agency said it expected about 3,000 people to cross into Macedonia every day from Greece, the first European Union nation they reach in their flight from conflict and deprivation in the Middle East and beyond.

“We do not see any end to the influx of people in coming months,” Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said Tuesday in Geneva.

She cited continued violence in Syria and Iraq and deteriorating conditions for refugees in overcrowded camps and homes in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Ms Fleming said Germany and Sweden had taken in 43 per cent of the asylum seekers in the European Union, and she suggested that the burden should be divided more evenly.

“We honestly believe if correct measures are taken this is something that Europe can handle,” she said. “It’s a bigger number than last year, yes. But it’s not going to turn Europe upside down.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who on Monday denounced neo-Nazi riots near Dresden late last week as “repugnant,” said she would visit Heidenau, the site of those disturbances, on Wednesday, a day before she attends a conference in Vienna to discuss the flow of arrivals from the Balkans.

Dr Merkel’s visit to Heidenau will be her first to a refugee facility since the crisis intensified in recent weeks, when many migrants started moving north from Turkey, through Greece and the Balkans, to Hungary and beyond.

On Tuesday, a day after she joined France in urging more European action, Dr Merkel reiterated that Germany and a handful of other countries needed help in tackling the problem. “Three or four out of 28 cannot bear the whole burden,” the chancellor told a crowd in Duisburg, a city in the German state with the most refugees, North Rhine-Westphalia.

Germany, Sweden, Austria and France have led the way in sheltering new arrivals, according to European officials. The vice chancellor of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats, visited Heidenau on Monday, diverting from a planned tour of “Silicon Saxony,” the technology startup scene around Dresden.

New York Times