Free movement is under threat as EU tightens borders
Published 16/02/2016 | 02:30
Balkan governments have threatened to close their borders to migrants as EU countries announced their intention to tighten controls to defend the Schengen zone.
The move could fuel political and humanitarian tension in Greece and Turkey.
Slovenia, a key Balkan member of the Schengen area, warned it will tighten immigration rules after Austria said last week it would shut out refugees once a "maximum number" has been reached.
Serbia may follow suit, according to Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic. Croatia, situated between Slovenia and Serbia, has been notified of Slovenia's decision and is deliberating over its next move.
"The whole idea is to be more consistent, more precise when we look into documents and verify claims," Bostjan Sefic, secretary at Slovenia's Interior Ministry, said last night. "In this way, we are detecting which persons are not eligible for international protection."
The migrant crisis is threatening to end the free-movement principle that underpins the 28-nation trading bloc and hobble economic growth.
With EU countries expecting as many as 1 million migrants this year - matching last year's numbers - leaders will address the crisis at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.
The EU has, at most, six weeks to stem the flow of migrants arriving on its shores via Turkey before it will be forced to abandon Schengen and impose border controls that the bloc began dismantling in 1985, Tomas Prouza, Czech Secretary of State for EU Affairs, said.
If a deal with Turkey to stop migrants fails to produce results, Germany will close its frontiers to passport-free travel as early as March, triggering a "domino effect" of border controls coming down through Austria and across the Balkans to Greece's northern border, Mr Prouza said. Meanwhile, Norwegian police say a vigilante group calling itself the Soldiers of Odin has made a first appearance in the Scandinavian country amid an influx of migrants.
Vestfold Police spokesman Torgny Alstad says about a dozen men dressed in black jackets, adorned with a Viking helmet and the group's name, patrolled the streets of Tonsberg near Norway's capital on Saturday night. He said that officers watched the group but that no incidents were reported.
The Soldiers of Odin, who derive their name from a Norse god, was founded last year in Finland where it regularly conducts street patrols.
The group says it's protecting residents from a perceived threat posed by migrants.
The group claims about 600 members in Finland, with groups in Britain, the US, Estonia, Germany and Sweden.
Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, meanwhile, has called for a razor-wire wall to be put in place on Macedonia's and Bulgaria's borders with Greece - smack along the main immigration route from the Middle East to Western Europe.
He says it's necessary because "Greece can't defend Europe from the south" against the large numbers of refugees.
The plan is especially controversial because it effectively means eliminating Greece from the Schengen zone