EU calls mini summit as Balkans buckle under refugee crisis



LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA, Bojan Kavcic- The EU Wednesday called a mini summit with Balkan countries on the migrant crisis, as Slovenia became the latest state to buckle under a surge of refugees desperate to reach northern Europe before winter.
The leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia will meet in Brussels Sunday with their counterparts from non-EU states Macedonia and Serbia, the office of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.



"In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action," a statement said.
The continent has been struggling to find a unified response on how to tackle its biggest migration crisis since 1945.
More than 600,000 migrants and refugees, mainly fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have braved the dangerous journey to Europe so far this year, the UN said.
Of these, over 3,000 have drowned or gone missing as they set off from Turkey in inflatable boats seeking to reach Greece, the starting point for the migrants' long trek north.
With the crisis showing no sign of abating, France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve reinforced security in the port city of Calais from where migrants and refugees try to cross to Britain.
He also announced that women and children would be given heated tents, as arrivals in a makeshift camp face a dip in temperature.
The goal for many migrants is the EU's biggest economy Germany, which expects to receive up to a million asylum requests this year.
Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday said the influx of asylum seekers into Germany was part of the fallout from globalisation which, she noted, had served Germany well on exports and jobs.
The Turkish government, meanwhile, warned it was bracing for a mass exodus from neighbouring Syria amid escalating violence there.
- Hardship for children -
Since Saturday, when Hungary sealed off its border with Croatia, more than 24,450 migrants have arrived in Slovenia, a nation of two million people.
In response to the crisis, the parliament voted early Wednesday to grant greater powers to the army and allow soldiers to join border police in patrolling the 670-kilometre (416-mile) frontier with Croatia.
Ljubjana also voiced sharp criticism over Zagreb's decision to open its borders on Monday night, letting thousands of people into Slovenia.
Around 11,000 people were stuck in Slovenian registration centres on Wednesday, waiting to continue their journey to Austria.
Further south, long lines also formed near Croatia's border with Slovenia.
Progress was slow as police at the Berkasovo checkpoint were only allowing a trickle of people through, an AFP photographer said.
Travelling with his wife and two children, 31-year-old Feras Faisal from Syria said they had spent three long days and nights waiting at the border in freezing temperatures.
"The situation is particularly difficult for the children, their faces turn yellow and their lips blue because of the cold," he told AFP.
"Europe is our only hope because all the Arab countries have shut their doors to us."
There was a moment of panic near another Croatian border crossing when 27 tents suddenly caught fire at the Brezice refugee camp.
Firefighters managed to quickly extinguish the blaze, which sent black smoke billowing into the sky.
Forced to spend hours in freezing temperatures and rain, people often resort to lighting makeshift fires to warm themselves.
- 'Nearly makes me cry' -
With at least 9,000 people landing on Europe's beaches every day, there appears to be no end to the human tide surging into the bloc.
EU conservative parties meeting in Madrid Wednesday called for the bloc's external borders to be strengthened, warning the flow of migrants could "destabilise" the region.
"We cannot accept millions and millions more people which we would not know how to manage," said Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People's Party which unites conservative parties from across the EU.
But Juncker said Europe had a duty to help the migrants.
"I don't often cry but when I see, night after night, this long procession of refugees which reminds me of images from the end of World War Two... it almost makes me cry," he said Wednesday.
Last month, the EU approved plans to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from overstretched frontline states Italy and Greece with a compulsory quota system that was fiercely opposed by some eastern, more hardline members of the bloc.
The proposal requires most of the 28 member states to accept a share of those people over the course of two years.
Member states have been slow to follow up with promised financial help -- out of the 2.8 billion euros ($3.2 billion) pledged at an emergency EU summit on September 23, only about 474 million euros has materialised.
EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos is to visit Ljubljana Thursday to discuss its request for backup from police forces in other EU countries.
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Thursday, October 22nd 2015
Bojan Kavcic
           


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