Western Balkans lock horns with migration this Thursday

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By Adrian Lancashire
Western Balkans lock horns with migration this Thursday

Europe still has not decided how it should respond… The number of migrants who have arrived by the Mediterranean this year has exceeded 225,000, according to the UN. Then they move overland.

We urgently need an overall European approach.

This Thursday in Vienna, senior officials of the Balkan countries that are not part of the European Union will meet to discuss the rush of migrants crossing their territory. They met one year ago in Berlin, also under greatly increased pressure to respond.

According to EU border agency Frontex, more than 100,000 migrants entered the EU via the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina between January and July 2015 — more than ten times the number for the same period in 2014.

The number of asylum requests Vienna got in the first half of this year, more than 28,000, exceeded its 2014 total. Thursday’s summit host Austria, which borders Hungary and fellow “front line” state Italy, will present a five-point crisis strategy.

As the conditions in Traiskirchen, a city 30 km from the capital, have attracted criticism from Amnesty International and the UN, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz visited a camp in Macedonia on Monday.

Referring to migrants’ arrival from EU member Greece, where so many first make landfall, Kurz said the Macedonians cannot handle this alone, “they are completely overwhelmed.”

“We urgently need an overall European approach.”

The summit will not only be about people fleeing violence in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and coming by sea. Many of the thousands of irregular migrants are western Balkan nationals, according to Frontex.

Driven by conflicts and poverty, African migrants are taking increasingly desperate measures to reach Europe. The challenges seen in fortified Melilla, the Spanish territory bordering Morocco, highlight the urgent need for a coordinated response.