The Balkan countries are a transit route for thousands of refugees, mostly Syrians, who are fleeing violence and trying to find a better life in the economically advanced countries of the European Union.
Experts say there is still no solution for the refugee crisis because the European Union has yet to adopt a comprehensive strategy to deal with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Along the Macedonian-Serbian border, tens of thousands of migrants of all ages have arrived, many are ill or injured. Their immediate needs are clear: shelter, food, medical care. Most come from Syria.
Europe must respond to the migrants in a more cohesive way, said Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International.
“European borders must remain open to people who seek protection,” he stated. “I know that in the movement, there are people who are not refugees and they need to be screened out. But let’s not forget that the majority of them do come from Syria, Jordan and Afghanistan and do qualify for [the status of] refugees.”
Reka Szemerkenyi, Hungary’s ambassador to the U.S., said the main problems are traffickers who are making money on human suffering. Hungary was the first EU member to increase border security measures and was accused of treating the refugees harshly.
Szemerkenyi said his government has a responsibility, though, to protect the common European border.
“At the same time, we understand that those countries that have taken the largest part of the burden, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – where the largest number of refugees are in the camps – we have to provide for them and we have to help them to be able to support those people who are there,” he said.
Johns Hopkins University professor Daniel Serwer said the best way to deal with the refugee crisis is to stop the flow of people out of Syria and Afghanistan. But he acknowledged there is no quick solution.
“The refugees have found the path, and that path is maybe close to here or there, but one way or another they will find their way to those countries that are willing to accept them,” he said. “Fortunately, Europe needs some of these young, educated workers. I think Europe just has to get used to doing something that America used to do a long time ago, which is accepting immigration, not resisting it.”
Easing demographic challenges
Many European countries face aging, declining populations. Like Serwer, Christian Odendahl of the Center for European Reform, said the migrants could help ease the “brain drain” of young professionals from the Balkans and Europe.
“The refugee crisis, of course, poses a challenge, but also it has the potential to help Europe – or parts of Europe – solve their demographic problems,” he explained. “It depends on the extent to which Europeans will be able to integrate migrants, particularly into the labor markets.”
Germany expects up to one million asylum-seekers this year alone.
And the world’s seven leading industrialized countries (G7), along with the Gulf states, have pledged $1.8 billion to help with the migrant crisis.
Life at the border crossing for many migrants moving across the Balkans toward Europe, however, is still anything but easy.