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Balkan route closed, EU to declare

Greece-FYROM borders

The EU Ambassadors meeting

The Balkan route taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants to Europe is going to be closed, EU leaders will declare today Monday at their summit with Turkey in Brussels, diplomats and officials said over the weekend, after a meeting on Sunday, the news site  POLITICO revealed.

Their statement — to be approved by leaders today, Monday March 7— was discussed by EU ambassadors on Sunday afternoon.

“Irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed,”

according to a copy of the document obtained by the news site .

Der Standard leak

Two days earlier aslo, the Austrian Newspaper Der Standard claimed it has seen a draft of the communiqué which stated that the Western Balkan route would  immediately shut down and Europe would provide the necessary support to Greece to deal with the refugees and immigrants to be stuck in the country.

According to Der Standard, the draft of the communiqué included a readmission agreement with Turkey for immigrants who do not qualify for asylum. Also, Europe would ask Turkey to participate directly and constructively in the control of EU external borders in the Aegean Sea.

Moreover, the draft stated, Der Standard  revealed, that the presence of Frontex in Greece would be enhanced, particularly at Greece borders with FYROM and Albania, while among FRONTEX responsibilities would be the proper functioning of the hotspots, where refugees will be registered and being prepared for their relocation to other European countries. EU countries should have done more than they have committed to do at this moment by April 1, as it is stated. According to the same draft, Europol would also participate in the process being also responsible for dismantling the trafficking.

Roadmap to Schengen

According to the Politiko article of Monday 03/07 , the ambassadors’ meeting did not last long and ambassadors also endorsed the aim to “take forward, as a matter of priority all the elements of the Commission roadmap,” according to a diplomatic source, who added that the draft statement was not controversial. The migration roadmap, which was put out on Friday, envisages a series of steps for the return to normality in the Schengen area by December, dismantling the internal border controls reintroduced by some member states.

The new commitment to close the Western Balkan route would end the “wave-through policy” that allowed migrants to cross borders with minimal controls.

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Be aware of the other routes

The final statement stresses the need to be aware of other routes that migrants might take if the road running through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia is shut down. There are fears, especially in Rome, that migrants will try to travel north through Albania and across the Ionian Sea to Italy.

This scenario, we have to underline, would be the most nightmarish one for Greece’s tourism, paralizing at most Greece’s tourist attraction at the Western part of the country, the Ionian islands, where most of top world’s celebrities used to trravel especially on summer months .

EU on Turkey’s acceptannce

To help ease the humanitarian strain on Greece, where thousands of migrants are now stuck after borders were closed further to the north, the EU is counting on Turkey’s help.

“I am afraid we could have an intense discussion on that since some are complaining that the EU has been too soft with Ankara,”

said a diplomat.

The summit is intended to address the refugee crisis by making it clear that migrants will be swiftly returned to Turkey and that last year’s “open-door” policy, that made it possible for more than a million people to make their way to Germany, is over.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in his meeting in Ankara with Tusk on Thursday, agreed to step up the return of illegal migrants from Greece as part of a bilateral readmission program with Athens, another official said.

But hours after European Council President Donald Tusk left Ankara last week, Turkish authorities on Friday seized Zaman, the country’s largest opposition newspaper.An agreement at the summit still faces such political hurdles, in particular unease within the EU over a domestic crackdown in Turkey, politiko article notes

“On Monday, I would like us to agree that all available EU tools, including accelerated relocation, should be used to address the humanitarian consequences for the refugees, not least in Greece, in a speedy and effective way,” Tusk wrote in his invitation letter to leaders who’ll gather in Brussels Monday.

Davutoğlu, who will take part in the first session of the summit, also confirmed Turkey’s readiness to take back Syrians rescued in international waters by a NATO-led operation.

NATO-FRONTEX deal

NATO on Sunday reached a deal with Frontex, the EU border agency, on how to coordinate efforts.

“We welcome that Frontex and NATO reached a common understanding today on the modalities of their cooperation in the Aegean Sea,”

said Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, in a joint statement Sunday with the Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. 

On some days, as many as two-thirds of the 3,000 people coming into Greece are non-Syrians. The plan is to give these people a one-way ticket home.

The statement that was worked on Sunday calls for members to approve a humanitarian package for Athens, presented by the Commission on Wednesday, before the next summit of EU leaders on March 17.

Part of the effort to help Athens includes a speeding up of the existing relocation programs for 66,400 refugees from Greece that has largely been moribund, diplomats said. The draft statement calls for action to “accelerate relocation to alleviate the heavy burden that presently weighs on Greece.”

Diplomats said they were optimistic that a consensus will emerge at the summit. The closure of the Balkan route will also soften the problem of Austria’s unilateral decision to impose a yearly and daily cap on the number of refugees the country will accept, a decision branded by the Commission as a violation of international law, said an official.

 

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SOURCE : POLITICO.

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