Tuesday 20 February 2018

Merkel condemns 'unilateral' closure of Balkan route to refugees

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel

Melanie Hall in Berlin

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has condemned European countries for shutting the Balkan route, leaving thousands of refugees trapped in Greece.

Mrs Merkel said the "unilateral" decision by countries including Austria and Macedonia had put Greece in a "very difficult situation" and such decisions would be unsustainable without a broader EU response to the crisis.

Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and non-EU members Serbia and Macedonia closed their borders to migrants without documents and EU visas earlier this week. The German chancellor said ahead of a crisis meeting between EU interior ministers that closing borders was "not the solution to the entire problem".

"Personally, I think that Austria's unilateral decision, and then those made subsequently by Balkan countries, will obviously bring us fewer refugees, but they put Greece in a very difficult situation," she said.

"If we do not manage to reach a deal with Turkey, then Greece cannot bear the weight for long. That's why I am seeking a real European solution, that is, a solution for all 28 [EU members]."

The western Balkan nations have been slowly reducing the number of refugees allowed through their frontiers for weeks, a strategy which has left thousands marooned between borders.

There are an estimated 36,000 migrants stranded in Greece. The tougher controls culminated this week in the closing of borders to halt the flood of irregular migrants.

Mrs Merkel's comments jarred with those by EU President Donald Tusk, who earlier had welcomed the change by saying the Balkan countries were simply implementing an important part of the EU plan to tackle the refugee crisis.

Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austria's interior minister, insisted that the closure of the Balkan route was "permanent", and only a "consistent signal" would deter people from seeking asylum in Europe.

Irish Independent

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