Austria, Balkan States Agree to Curb Immigration

Austria and Balkan nations take action to reduce the flow of people, to the dismay of Germany and Greece.

Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann makes a speech in parliament in Vienna, January 27
Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann makes a speech in parliament in Vienna, January 27 (BKA/Andy Wenzel)

Austria and nine Balkan nations agreed to measures in Vienna on Wednesday that they hope will reduce the flow of migrants across the region.

Given that there is no “European solution in sight,” the countries are forced to pursue “national solutions,” argued Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz.

Neither Germany, the most popular destination for migrants, nor Greece, the southern doorway into Europe, were invited to the conference — to the dismay of both.

Mixed signals

Over the weekend, Germany criticized its southern neighbor’s imposition of a daily limit on the number of refugees it would accept as “sending the wrong signal”.

Austria’s interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, argued in turn that it was Germany that was sending the wrong signals.

“Currently it’s allowing Greece to agree to the open-door policy and on the other hand they are demanding that Austria stop all those who want to travel to Germany,” she complained.

“Unfriendly act”

Athens even recalled its ambassador from Austria to protest the “unfriendly act” of not being invited to the Vienna conference.

The Greeks fear — not without reason — that tighter border controls will trap tens of thousands of migrants on their territory.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his parliament that he would not allow Greece to become “a warehouse of souls” and vowed to use his veto at the next summit of EU leaders in Brussels if Greece is left alone to deal with the crisis.


Macedonia and Serbia have blocked passage to virtually all Afghans, who account for around a third of the migrants. Even many Iraqis and Syrians, fleeing civil wars, are turned away if they don’t have the proper documentation, aid groups and the United Nations said.

Refugees who have lived for long periods in countries deemed safe, such as Iran and Turkey, have also been barred from most Balkan states.

Slovenia’s parliament voted on Monday to dispatch the army for border control.

Separately, Belgium restored border controls on Tuesday to block illegal immigrants recently cleared from a sprawling camp in Calais.


Germany has softly started closing the door itself, after taking in more than one million asylum seekers in 2015. The country is speeding deportations and barring citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia from receiving asylum.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, whose government holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, warned last month that there were only weeks left to save the Schengen free-travel arrangement before the continent could be overwhelmed by immigrants.

“We cannot cope with the numbers any longer,” he said.

Rutte called for a strengthening of the European external frontier and rapid agreement on sharing immigrants around the EU.

But the vast majority of member states reject a German-backed proposal to spread refugees proportionately across the bloc while border states like Greece and Italy are failing to uphold their treaty obligation to register and process all asylum seekers who arrive on their shores.

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