05 June 2019
Interior ministers and other representatives of EU and Western Balkan states recently produced a statement emphasising the need to maintain strict control measures along the 'Balkan Route' and at the EU's south-eastern borders, with no reference to the dire situation faced by many migrants and refugees in the region.
The statement, obtained by Statewatch, was produecd following a high-level conference in Vienna 3 May 2019 attended by "Ministers of the Interior and/or representatives of the Western Balkan the Salzburg Forum, and in the presence of Germany, Denmark, Greece, Switzerland," as well as numerous EU and international agency representatives. The Salzburg Forum is made up of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The statement refers to "our obligations pursuant to international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees," and also calls for "proactive planning" to "enhance protection capacities in the region as well as in other countries with the support of relevant EU agencies and EU Member States."
However, the overwhelming emphasis is on maintaining and upgrading the control measures that have been implemented since the "emergency situation" of 2015.
Pushbacks, collective expulsions and violence against migrants have been reported frequently along the 'Western Balkan route' and there has been a renewed increase in reports of illegal pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish border.
Euronews reported last November that:
"Thousands of migrants are stranded in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the border with Croatia. As the winter closes in, the external border of the European Union is inching towards a humanitarian emergency. Around 21,000 migrants have taken this route seeking safe refuge in the EU."
More recently, the conditions in the camps on the Greek island of Samos, where thousands of people are stuck, led to protests and a violent response from the police.
Amongst other things, the ministerial statement says (emphasis added):
"As regards proactive planning the ministers agreed to:
1. further strengthen and ensure regular, timely and relevant information exchange between relevant actors via video or phone conferencing and - if necessary - strategic meetings, making best use of already existing platforms, such as the IPCR and the Western Balkan Risk Analysis Network, and video conferences, such as regular Sherpa video conferences organised by the European Commission;
2. strengthen cooperation among the existing networks of liaison officers - also in line with the recently adopted recast of the ILO Regulation - in order to enhance the efficiency of the information and data exchange by harmonising and accelerating the procedures;
3. strengthen cooperation and applying a comprehensive 'Whole-of-Migratory Routes Approach' in order to address the root causes of irregular migration;
4. reinforce cooperation in fighting criminal networks in the field of human trafficking and migrant smuggling, in line with the EU Action Plan against migrant smuggling, and the comprehensive set of operational measures approved by the JHA Council on 6 December 2018, for example through making best use of the EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious international crime as well as of operational tools like the Joint Operational Office in Vienna and the exchange of operational information and support to investigations provided by Europol;
5. strengthen the coordination of measures, operational cooperation and logistic support in the area of border protection and border management, such as the secondment of officers and the exchange of best practices and the organisation of joint patrols;"
Tusk on tour: statements from meetings in Bulgaria, Macedonia and Slovenia ignore the reality of the Balkan route(Statewatch News, 5 April 2017)
Police chiefs: nine-point programme on keeping the 'Balkan Route' closed(Statewatch News, 12 July 2016)
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