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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Slovenia's border with Croatia fully closed to migrants without valid EU visas

Migrants wait in line for food at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni (AP)
Migrants wait in line for food at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni (AP)

Slovenia has fully shut its border with Croatia for migrants without valid EU visas and will no longer accept organised trains carrying refugees.

Prime Minister Miro Cerar said the effective closure of the Western Balkans route for migrants was made after this week's EU summit which "agreed to stop irregular migration" towards central Europe.

About 478,000 refugees and migrants have passed through Slovenia, mostly in trains, since mid-October when the Balkan migrant route switched from Hungary after it built a razor-wire fence to stop the flow.

Slovenian police said no migrants have entered the county during the last four days. Thousands remain stranded on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia.

Meanwhile, Hungary said it is extending a state of emergency to the whole country in response to the migrant crisis, including additional police and military patrols to stop migrants from entering.

Interior minister Sandor Pinter said the measures are needed because of uncertainty about where the people stranded across the Balkans will try to go after several countries announced only people with valid EU visas will be allowed through.

Hungary declared a state of emergency last year in several counties directly affected by the migrant flow and built fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia which have greatly reduced the number of migrants entering the country in their efforts to reach Germany and other destinations in Western Europe.

Mr Pinter said that a fence on the Romanian border is not necessary for now as Romania has pledged to prevent any migrants from reaching Hungary from there.

An official in Greece said there are early indications that Nato patrols in the eastern Aegean Sea are reducing the number of migrants travelling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands.

Dimitris Vitsas, the deputy defence minister, said expanded Nato patrols that started this week have put pressure on smugglers who have continued to bring migrants and refugees to Greek islands at an average of roughly 2,000 per day.

Mr Vitsas told a state-run radio station: "Yesterday, we had about 700 people. So there is a strong eye on the situation."

Turkey is currently in negotiations with the European Union for a broad agreement aimed at limiting the number of migrants crossing into Europe.

Turkey and Greece are backing a so-called re-admission agreement that would allow Greece to send back migrants who arrived illegally.

Turkey's foreign minister said his country wants to work with the UN's refugee agency and other humanitarian organisations to properly manage a potential deal with the European Union which envisages sending thousands of migrants back to Turkey.

Mevlut Cavusoglu also defended the deal as the best way to discourage irregular migration and fight smuggling rings taking migrants on often-perilous journeys across the Aegean Sea to Greece.

His comments, after a joint meeting between the Turkish and Belgian foreign, interior and justice ministers, came in response to concerns voiced by the United Nations and human rights groups that Turkey would not be able to provide for the migrants.

More than 2.7 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey. Most are housed by Turkish families or live out in the open, and few have government-funded shelters.

According to the deal, people arriving in Greece having fled war or poverty would be sent back to Turkey unless they apply for asylum.

"The aim is to stop irregular migration and to ensure a regular migration," Mr Cavusoglu said.

He added: "We want to cooperate with the UNHCR on how we will house these migrants and how we will send them back to their countries."

The minister said that Turkey aims to build high-standard temporary shelters to house economic migrants who are returned to Turkey but do not qualify for refugee status in the country.

Press Association

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