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Fences and walls along the Balkan route

Austria was instrumental in the closing of the Balkan route six months ago. Now a meeting in Vienna has taken stock of the closure. Germany's chancellor has emphasized common goals, as Barbara Wesel reports from Vienna. It is the third such meeting in Vienna, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long established herself at the head of the movement: "We have come a long way," compared to the situation a year ago, she summarizes. Back then, she embodied Europe's "welcoming culture": No one talks much about that anymore. Now there are calls for doing "as much as possible to stop illegal immigration." Merkel's Austrian colleagues report that when she addressed the other 11 heads of government at the meeting, the chancellor complained that 50,000 refugees had come to Europe along the Balkan route since February. The border, it seems, has not been sealed well enough. A rather European solution The meeting failed to produce any new insights; only the tone of the leaders' statements seemed to become more unified as it went on. Whereas last year there were serious differences of opinion, this year all emphasized the importance of the 1,000 new EU border patrol agents that are to be deployed as part of the Frontex border management program. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern added that if external borders could not be protected, states would have to act on their own; that would also apply to Austria. This, he said, would have consequences for businesses, tourists and commuters. Angela Merkel repeatedly emphasized common goals and the success of the EU-Turkey agreement. She sees the agreement as a blueprint for further treaties, especially with countries like Egypt, which has now become the hub for the latest wave of migration to Europe. Pakistan and Afghanistan are also on her list, although talks are barely moving with the two countries. The goal, said the chancellor once again, was to deport all immigrants that will not be allowed to remain in Europe for humanitarian reasons as soon as possible. But the EU is a long way from being able to do that. Criticism of Greece Greece can't do it! Once again, Alexis Tsipras had to listen to a lot of criticism - also from Angela Merkel. Currently, some 60,000 refugees are stuck in Greece, mostly because they cannot be returned to Turkey, the chancellor emphasized. Athens needs more help from the EU. The extremely slow asylum process is in fact compounding the refugee bottleneck on the Greek isles. "Can it remain the case that Greece does not send people back?" asked the Austrian chancellor rhetorically. The Greek prime minister, on the other hand, pointed the finger at the broken promises of the EU member states: 5,000 refugees stand ready to be distributed among other EU states; to date only about 500 have been taken in. Angela Merkel stressed the fact that Germany was prepared to admit several hundred people per month from Italy and Greece. But other EU states must also do their part, she said. Yet there has been very little movement in some countries, Merkel quietly criticized, and none whatsoever in Hungary. Meanwhile, thousands of refugees are also stuck in Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria. These countries are none too happy with what the EU has offered them in assistance, either. Several heads of government, especially Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, are calling for more EU support. Hardline EU policy The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has been increasingly uncompromising in formulating his position: "The Western Balkan route must remain closed for good." Right now, the most important thing for the EU is to protect its exterior borders, said Tusk in Vienna. No more talk of admission and distribution. As has become usual, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used the Vienna conference as an opportunity to flaunt his anti-refugee rhetoric: He wants to build an enormous refugee camp off the coast of Libya and send all refugees that land in Europe there. He says that total control of the EU's exterior borders must be attained, and that includes controlling the Mediterranean. He continued that anyone fished out of the waters there should simply be dropped off in the new Libyan camp. Orban has firmly established himself in the role of the EU's constant provocateur. Part of that role includes the referendum against the admission of refugees to be held in early October, for which he is busily inciting his country.

Austria was instrumental in the closing of the Balkan route six months ago. Now a meeting in Vienna has taken stock of the closure. Germany’s chancellor has emphasized common goals, as Barbara Wesel reports from Vienna. It is the third such meeting in Vienna, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long established herself at the head of the movement: “We ... Read More »

Greek PM Tsipras threatens to block EU refugee decisions if left alone in crisis

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all EU migrant decisions if his country has to deal with the crisis alone. His comments come as Austria and West Balkan states decide to tighten their borders to migrants. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all decisions at an upcoming EU migration summit if his country has to deal with the refugee crisis alone. Tsipras said that from now on Greece "will not assent to agreements" unless all its EU partners are forced to participate in the relocation and resettlement of refugees. "Greece will not agree to deals [in the EU] if a mandatory allocation of burdens and responsibilities among member countries is not secured," he added. "We will not accept turning the country into a permanent warehouse of souls with Europe continuing to function as if nothing is happening," Tsipras told the Greek parliament on Wednesday. Hundreds of Afghans are currently stranded in Greece after Macedonia decided to close its borders to refugees earlier this week. Tsipras said it was unfair that EU partners had dumped the burden of the migrants on Greece, a country already reeling from an economic crisis. "We did and will continue to do everything we can to provide warmth, essential help and security to uprooted, hounded people," he said, adding that Athens would not accept a situation where EU member states could do as they pleased. 'We will not tolerate fences and walls' The Greek prime minister's comments came as Austria and nine other countries met for a West Balkan conference on Wednesday, after individually deciding to restrict the flow of refugees into their countries. Neither Greece nor Germany was invited to the summit. "We will not tolerate that a number of countries will be building fences and walls at the borders without accepting even a single refugee" Tsipras said, adding that his country would demand the mandatory participation of EU countries in the relocation of refugees. Tsipras also said he would meet leaders from Greece's political parties to discuss tackling the number of migrants stranded in the country. EU leaders are scheduled to meet next week to fix plans on resolving the crisis. Earlier Wednesday, Tsipras also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and agreed on a stronger crackdown on human smugglers in the Aegean Sea to reduce the migrant flow.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all EU migrant decisions if his country has to deal with the crisis alone. His comments come as Austria and West Balkan states decide to tighten their borders to migrants. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will block all decisions at an upcoming EU migration summit if his country ... Read More »

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