Ljubljana: Slovenia has announced that it will refuse the transit of most migrants through its territory in a bid to seal off the Balkan route used by hundreds of thousands of people seeking a new life in Europe.
The dramatic twist in Europe’s tangled migrant crisis could set off a domino effect among Balkan states, with Serbia swiftly indicating it would follow Ljubljana’s lead and Croatia and Macedonia also expected to follow suit.
The moves to shut down the main route used by the vast influx of migrants hoping to find asylum or better economic prospects in northern Europe come barely a day after the EU and Turkey agreed a proposal aimed at easing the crisis.
EU officials hailed Monday’s deal with Ankara as an important breakthrough, but the head of the UN refugee agency cast doubt on its legality, while Amnesty International said the plan “dealt a death blow to the right to seek asylum”.
Slovenia’s interior ministry said yesterday that access would only be granted to “foreigners meeting the requirements to enter the country”, those wishing to claim asylum, and migrants selected “on a case by case basis on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with the rules of the Schengen zone”.
More than a million people have crossed the Aegean Sea into Greece since the start of 2015, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and most aiming to reach wealthy Germany and Scandinavia, causing deep divisions among EU members about how to deal with Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
Serbia said that following Slovenia’s move, it would “align all measures with the European Union” and impose the same restrictions at its borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Slovenia and Serbia, along with Austria, Croatia and Macedonia, have dramatically restricted entry to migrants in recent weeks, leaving a bottleneck of some 36,000 stuck at the Greek-Macedonian border, unable to continue their journey.
Turkey, currently hosting 2.7 million Syrian refugees, is the key springboard for migrants making the perilous sea crossing to Greece. Efforts to stem the flow have failed, with nearly 2,000 migrants landing on the overstretched Greek islands every day in February.
At talks in Brussels on Monday, the EU agreed in principle to a Turkish proposal to take back all illegal migrants landing on the Greek islands.