Balkan leaders meet on migrants ahead of EU mini-summit

24th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

The leaders of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania met Saturday to discuss how to tackle record numbers of migrants at the onset of winter, ahead of a mini-EU summit to discuss a coordinated response.

Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania are among the countries on the migrants' route from Turkey through the Balkans to northern Europe.

Saturday's talks in Bulgaria's capital Sofia come a day ahead of a meeting of leaders in Brussels called by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who has been urging a cross-border approach to the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II.

Growing hostility towards the newcomers in Germany and Sweden -- Europe's top destinations for asylum-seekers -- has lent increased urgency to efforts to get other EU members accept a grater share of the arrivals.

Police in Sweden said a planned refugee home around 90 kilometres (60 miles) west of Stockholm was torched Friday night.

The building was vacant at the time of the suspected arson attack, which follows a dozen such attacks since the start of the year and came a day after a man armed with a sword killed two people in a racist attack at a Swedish school with many immigrant pupils.

Authorities in Germany have also reported mounting anti-migrant violence. On Thursday, prosecutors said police had foiled a far-right plot to torch migrant shelters in the southern town of Bamberg.

- Praise for Merkel -

Germany, the EU's top economy, has taken in the vast majority of the more than 670,000 migrants who have landed on Europe's shores this year, most of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Saturday, a new German law came into effect to speed up the expulsion of people deemed to be economic migrants and to restrict political asylum for Albanian, Montenegrin and Kosovan nationals to exceptional cases.

Juncker on Friday praised Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy of solidarity with refugees, which has drawn sharp criticism as the country braces for up to a million asylum requests this year.

"I appreciate very much that the chancellor does not change course because of opinion polls", Juncker was quoted as telling the Funke-Mediengruppe press group.

But in a sign of possible renewed intra-EU friction, the small Alpine country of Slovenia -- a new hotspot in the crisis -- warned it could add to the growing number of European anti-migrant border fences unless it received more support.

Sunday's summit in Brussels will bring the leaders of non-EU members Macedonia and Serbia together with the leaders of eight EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia.

"The past weeks have shown that there is no national solution to the problem," Juncker's spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.

"Only a European collective cross-border approach based on cooperation can succeed."

- '16 EU proposals -

According to German media, Juncker has drafted 16 proposals for Sunday's talks.

They include an undertaking that no country will let migrants through to an adjoining state without first getting the neighbour's agreement.

He is reportedly also floating proposals to speed up the expulsion of migrants who have been denied asylum and to withdraw the right of asylum to people who do not register their request in the first EU state where they land.

Asylum statistics published by Switzerland on Saturday showed it rejecting more and more asylum requests from Eritreans arriving via Italy, on the grounds that their request should be handled in their first port of call in the EU.

In September, 772 people from the Horn of Africa country who had already applied for asylum in Italy were turned down for refugee status in Switzerland within 10 days, compared with 24 in June.

With thousands more people arriving from Croatia on Friday, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said he hoped Sunday's EU meeting would bring solutions but did not rule erecting a barrier along the 670-kilometre (415-mile) frontier with Croatia.

"We are considering that option too but at this moment... we are still looking for a European option," Cerar told state TV late Thursday.

Ljubljana has asked Brussels for 140 million euros ($155 million, £100 million), in addition to police backup and logistical support.

More than 47,500 people have entered the country of just two million since October 17 when Hungary shut its frontier with Croatia, barely a month after also closing its Serbian border.

Hungary had previously been the preferred transit country of migrants bound for Germany via Austria.

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© 2015 AFP

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