Camps in Balkans to ease migrant crisis

EU and other nations agree on holding centres for 100,000 along Balkan route and in Greece

BRUSSELS • The leaders of Greece and other countries along the main migrant trail to affluent parts of Europe have agreed to set up holding camps for 100,000 asylum-seekers - a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said would help slow a chaotic flow of tens of thousands of people seeking shelter from war or simply better lives.

Dr Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Union's top executive, who convened Sunday's meeting with Eastern and Central European leaders at Dr Merkel's behest, said reception centres would be established along the "Balkan route", and could hold and process 50,000 people, with facilities for 50,000 more to be set up in Greece.

He said leaders had also agreed to stop "waving through" migrants who cross their countries as they rush north towards Germany and Scandinavia. Sunday's gathering of 11 leaders included not only countries that belong to the 28-nation EU, but also others outside the bloc like Albania, Macedonia and Serbia.

"The uncontrolled flow of people must be stopped," Dr Juncker said. "It cannot be that in the Europe of 2015, people are left to fend for themselves, sleeping in fields."

The meeting came after Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia last Saturday warned that they could close their borders to stop them becoming a "buffer zone".

TACKLING THE MIGRANT WAVE

The uncontrolled flow of people must be stopped. It cannot be that in the Europe of 2015, people are left to fend for themselves, sleeping in fields.

DR JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, the European Union's top executive

Voicing dismay that previous promises of action had not been put into effect, Dr Juncker said countries must now follow through on their commitments so that order can be reached in a flow of migrants that keeps increasing.

Amid warnings that the EU risked falling apart if it cannot forge a common response to a largely uncontrolled influx of Syrians, Afghans and others, Dr Merkel said yesterday that Europe "faced one of the greatest litmus tests" in its history.

"Of course this does not solve the problem" but it does provide "a building stone in the edifice" of a more coherent policy, she said.

The gathering was the fifth consecutive meeting of leaders on how to deal with a crisis that has led to acrimonious divisions among European nations and helped bolster the political fortunes of anti-European populist forces across the continent.

Adding to a sense of urgency in recent days has been the fear that Germany, the final destination of many of the newcomers, might close its borders.

Dr Merkel faces growing pressure over her handling of the crisis from within her conservative bloc, which has suffered in opinion polls.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Camps in Balkans to ease migrant crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe