The new Western Balkans Route and the future of migration crisis

The new Western Balkans Route and the future of migration crisis
By Sophie Claudet
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With the emergence of the new Western Balkans Route and continued illegal migration, how is Europe responding to the refugee crisis? Insiders’ host Sophie Claudet speaks to Gerald Knaus ‐ the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI) think tank.

Thousands of migrants are stranded in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the border with Croatia. At least 21,000 people are believed to have made the journey along a new Balkans migration trail since EU leaders declared the route shut in early March.

Insiders’ host Sophie Claudet spoke to Gerald Knaus ‐ the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI) think tank ‐ to find out how stricter border policies have affected migration.

Sophie Claudet: _"_Gerald Knaus thanks for being with us. We saw in our report that migrants are now using a slightly different route in the Western Balkans to reach Europe. Is it because European countries have toughened their migration policy?"

**Gerald Knaus: "**All the Balkan countries claim that they've closed their borders. Austria claims that it has closed its borders. But somehow this can't be right because in the end where do the Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans, and Pakistanis, who come to Germany, where do they come from. They come somewhere, not noticed, without television pictures, with a lot of money being paid to smugglers but successfully."

Sophie Claudet: "So are you saying that what we see happening on the Croatian border, with these guards sometimes choosing violence is more of a photo opportunity for the media?

Gerald Knaus**:** "I don't think that it's a photo opportunity for the media, but it is clear that all European countries want to send a message to the people, not yet on their way, that it is almost impossible to get through. The reality, however, is that those that have made it to Bihac, who've crossed 5 or 6 international borders already, which is only 300 km from Austria, they will not be deterred by the Croatian police activity."

Sophie Claudet: "And yet, the IOM is saying that it is returning people to their home countries."

Gerald Knaus: "Yes, and the IOM is returning people also from Greece and for everyone who wants to give up and who realises that perhaps the smugglers have been lying, this may be a good option. But as long as we have, as we saw in the first half of this year, more than 90,000 people arrive in Germany, successfully, there will be the news that it is still possible to get to Central Europe. And that means that people who've made a very difficult journey to reach Bosnia, who are very close to their final destination, most of them, are very unlikely to give up."

Sophie Claudet: "We saw in our report, that many people were not granted the possibility of applying for asylum, regardless of the fact, you know that they are economic migrants or war refugees. Is it legal to prevent people from filing for asylum?"

Gerald Knaus: "In the last year, very, very few people applied for asylum in Croatia, which is remarkable. In the first half of 2018, about 400 people applied for asylum in Croatia, which means that neither the Croatian authorities nor most of the migrants crossing Croatia seem to have an interest that anybody applies there. They either temporarily get stuck in Bosnia or they make their way through Croatia, and through Slovenia to richer countries like Austria or Germany."

Sophie Claudet: "Now in closing, what is your forecast regarding migration to Europe in the next coming decades, taking into account that conflicts will probably continue, that poverty will probably continue as well, and taking into account, of course, climate change."

Gerald Knaus: "The trend of the last decades shows us that large numbers of arrivals are rare. We've seen them after the Syrian war in 2015 and we've also had 3 years of largescale arrival from Libya to Italy, but the average number of people who cross the whole Mediterranean, in recent decades, per day, is less than 300. Now, these are numbers that Europe should be able to cope with and treat those who arrive humanely, access asylum claims fairly and fast, and also return those who do not need protection. But Europe is currently falling with low numbers of arrivals, on all of these tasks, so if there will be future crises, unpredictable wars, that we don't know about yet, that the numbers would rise again, I fear, that in light of the current situation, the European Union would struggle again and would once again not be prepared."

Sophie Claudet: "Thank you very much for your insight today.”

Gerald Knaus: "I thank you."

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