EU Meeting on the Western Balkans Migration Route
Important humanitarian matters resolved, reports Chancellor
Reception capacities are to be increased by 100,000 places, 400 police officers are to be deployed in Slovenia, the flow of information is to be improved and border management enhanced – these were the main outcomes of the EU Meeting on the Western Balkans Migration Route. The primary objective was "to alleviate the suffering of refugees" said the Chancellor after the meeting.
How can Europe cope with the huge numbers of refugees arriving via the Western Balkans route, and how can the suffering of refugees be alleviated? These were the pivotal questions at the EU meeting on Sunday in Brussels. One important outcome underlined by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, was that places for up to 100,000 refugees will be provided along the Western Balkan route, including 50,000 in Greece. Four hundred police officers are also to be deployed to Slovenia, the flow of information between countries speeded up, and border management improved.
The heads of state or government agreed on a 17-point plan of action. Some are emergency measures that will be implemented within the next few days, while other are steps that will be effective in the medium term.
Focus on reducing suffering, reports Chancellor
Chancellor Angela Merkel saw the focus on the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. "Today it was first and foremost a question of alleviating the suffering of refugees along the so-called Western Balkans route. We are all committed to upholding humanitarian and human values. We have all signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The images we have seen over the last few days did not correspond to the values to which we feel committed," she stressed after the consultations. In the short term the aim is to restore order to the situation, she added. It is important to set up waiting and rest areas swiftly, and ensure that refugees can be properly cared for.
Angela Merkel also reported on the stepped up exchange of information between states agreed at the meeting. Every country, she said, is to nominate a contact person and supply the Cabinet of the President of the European Commission with the names, so that there can be weekly exchanges to monitor processes along the Western Balkans route.
Reception capacities for 50,000 in Greece alone
In addition to the emergency measures, medium-term steps were discussed. Angela Merkel pointed to the readiness of Greece to provide a total of 50,000 places for refugees. 30,000 are to be in place before the end of the year.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is to support Greece with the establishment of these places. "I am extremely grateful to UNHCR for its assistance in establishing these hotspots for the reallocation of refugees and the return of those not in need of protection," said Angela Merkel. Work can thus start on reallocating refugees within the EU.
Measures were also agreed to improve border management. A total of 400 police officers and essential equipment are to be deployed to Slovenia at short notice.
Cooperation with Turkey
The Chancellor once again stressed the importance of cooperation with Turkey if Europe is to deal with the massive influx of refugees. Germany will support the efforts of the European Commission to agree on an Action Plan with Turkey.
Questions relating to the return of migrants were also discussed at the meeting, with a special focus on Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Readmission agreements are to be entered into with these countries.
The meeting was attended by the Chancellor as well as the heads of state or government of the EU member states Austria, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia, and of the non-EU states Serbia, Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU Presidency, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were also represented. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council attended the meeting in Brussels, as did representatives of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex, the European border management agency.