European leaders agree 17-point plan on Western Balkans migration route

Leaders of eight European Union countries and of Serbia, Macedonia and Albania have agreed on a 17-point plan of action on the Western Balkans migration route, including increasing capacity to take in migrants to 100 000 places in Greece and the Balkans.

This is according to statements by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and a formal statement by the EC after the October 25 meeting of European leaders in Brussels, called specially to discuss the crisis.

“The only way to restore order to this situation is to slow down the uncontrolled flow of these people,” Juncker told a news conference after the meeting.

The past weeks have shown that the challenges currently faced along the Western Balkans migration route will not be solved through national actions, the EC said in a statement after the meeting. “Only a collective, cross-border approach based on co-operation can succeed.”

The leaders, representing Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia agreed to improve cooperation and step up consultation between the countries along the route and decided on “pragmatic operational measures” that can be implemented as of tomorrow to tackle the refugee crisis in the region.

Juncker said: “Countries affected should not only talk about and at each other but also with each other. Neighbours should work together not against each other. Refugees need to be treated in a humane manner along the length of the Western Balkans route to avoid a humanitarian tragedy in Europe. I am therefore pleased that today we were able to jointly agree on a 17-point plan of pragmatic and operational measures to ensure people are not left to fend for themselves in the rain and cold.”

The European leaders at the meeting agreed to implement the operational measures as of October 26.

The plan includes ominating contact points within 24 hours to allow daily exchanges and coordination to achieve the gradual, controlled and orderly movement of persons along the Western Balkans route, and submitting joint needs assessments for EU support within 24 hours.

It also includes discouraging the movement of refugees or migrants to the border of another country of the region without informing neighbouring countries, while also supporting refugees and providing shelter and rest

The plan envisages increasing the capacity to provide temporary shelter, food, health, water and sanitation to all in need; triggering the EU Civil Protection Mechanism where necessary.

The leaders agreed that Greece should increase reception capacity to 30 000 places by the end of the year, and to support UNHCR to provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20 000 more – a pre-condition to make the emergency relocation scheme work; Financial support for Greece and UNHCR is expected.

The plan provides for working with the UNHCR who will support the increase of reception capacities by 50 000 places along the Western Balkans route.

It also envisages working with international financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Development Bank of the Council of Europe which are ready to support financially efforts of the countries willing to make use of these resources.

The plan provides for “managing the migration flows together”, including ensuring a full capacity to register arrivals, with maximum use of biometric data, and exchanging information on the size of flows and, where requested, on all arriving refugees and migrants on a country’s territory, as well as working with EU agencies to swiftly put in place this exchange of information.

It provides for stepping up national and coordinated efforts to return migrants not in need of international protection, working with Frontex, as well as working with the European Commission and Frontex to step up practical cooperation on readmission with third countries and intensifying cooperation in particular with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The plans says that the European Commission must work to implement existing readmission agreements fully and start work on new readmission agreements with relevant countries.

On border management, the plan provides for an increase in efforts to manage borders, including by finalising and implementing the EU-Turkey Action Plan, making full use of the potential of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the visa liberalisation roadmap, upscaling the Poseidon Sea Joint Operation in Greece, reinforcing Frontex support at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, strengthening border cooperation between Greece and Macedonia, with increased UNHCR engagement; while Greece and Macedonia and Albania will strengthen the management of the external land border, with Frontex to support registration in Greece.

The plan also provides for working together with Frontex to monitor border crossings and support registration and fingerprinting at the Croatian-Serbian border crossing points, deploying in Slovenia 400 police officers and essential equipment within a week, through bilateral support, strengthening the Frontex Western Balkans Risk Analysis Network with intensified reporting from all participants.

It foresees making use, where appropriate of the Rapid Border Intervention Team (RABIT) mechanism, which should be duly equipped, and reconfirming the principle of refusing entry to third country nationals who do not confirm a wish to apply for international protection (in line with international and EU refugee law and subject to prior non-refoulement and proportionality checks).

The plan provides for stepping up actions against migrant smuggling and trafficking of human beings with support of Europol, Frontex and Interpol.

It also envisages making use of “all available communication tools” to inform refugees and migrants about existing rules, as well as about their rights and obligations, notably on the consequences of a refusal to be registered, fingerprinted and of a refusal to seek protection where they are.

It also foresees monitoring the implementation of these commitments on a weekly basis, with the Commission to coordinate with national contact points.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, speaking ahead of the meeting, told reporters that he categorically rejected the idea of contracting a loan from international financial institutions in order to cope with the refugee wave.

“I think that each one of us can handle this through their own budgets, through the European Commission and the EU funds, instead of increasing our deficits and debt for such a thing,” Borissov said.

(Photo: A Tanzeem/VOA)



The Sofia Globe staff

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