Vienna Summit and Alpback Forum Fall Short In Solving Europe’s Refugees Crisis

Left to right: Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic, Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian president Heinz Fischer at the Western Balkans summit in Vienna on 27 August 2015. 'Finding an EU-wide solution to the greatest movement of peoples since the second world war is an urgent priority.' Photo: Georg Hochmuth/EPA

Left to right: Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic,
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, German chancellor Angela Merkel
and Austrian president Heinz Fischer
at the Western Balkans summit in Vienna on 27 August 2015.
‘Finding an EU-wide solution
to the greatest movement of peoples
since the second world war
is an urgent priority.’
Photo: Georg Hochmuth/EPA


I’m aware it was high-Summer hot weather on 27 August 2015 when the highest representatives of the Western Balkan countries met with some high EU officials and high representatives of some EU member countries, such as Austria, Croatia, Germany, Italy and Slovenia at the Vienna summit. Given the boiling refugee and illegal migrant crisis taking place in Europe at the same time one would have thought, despite the hot and lazy Summer weather, the grand, air-conditioned, opulence of the Viennese Hofburg would have set conditions conducive to clear and decisive thinking on solving some of the logistical issues of the refugee crisis, at least.
But, ‘nah’ – while almost all leaders, come high representatives, spoke of the crisis, mentioned it, Western Balkans countries spoke mostly of infrastructure and money.


The Viennese Hofburg

The Viennese Hofburg

This year’s Vienna summit is part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process marked by yearly summits in order to underline the commitment to EU-enlargement towards the Western Balkans region. The focus of the initiative is on those countries of the Western Balkans that are not yet EU-members: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The EU-participants at the Summit are those countries, which have committed themselves to organise summit meetings: in addition to last year’s and this year’s organisers Germany and Austria, these are France and Italy. The process is also strongly supported by Slovenia and Croatia. Last year’s summit took place in Berlin on 28 August 2014 and gave important impulses for progress in the areas of regional cooperation, economy and the rule of law.
The refugee and illegal migrant crisis has through this Summit also demonstrated that the notion of EU enlargement is alive, as is regional cooperation. Although, the signal for the latter was quite weak because one could not but notice that in an enormous humanitarian crisis such as the one evolving and brewing in Europe it’s “every ‘man’ (country) for himself”!
Nevertheless, the refugee and illegal migrants crisis seems to have paved the way for the intensification of regional cooperation even if it is clear that EU enlargement is going nowhere for the foreseeable future. But even this “intensified” regional cooperation driven by the refugee crisis has its shaky foundations in mixed and confusing messages from different countries suggesting priorities are still individualised and far away from a collaborative, solidarity-filled, unified milieu in which one inevitably finds a certain consensus as to how to move forward.
Serbian Prime Minister Vucic said that he did not consider the EU to be like an ATM (to milk money from) but rather as an organisation with which Serbia shared common values. Alas, Vucic made sure he placed Serbia at a higher value to EU countries because of the “praiseworthy” (he said) way Serbia is treating the refugees! He said (almost repulsively alluding to Hungary) Serbia would not be building fences to keep refugees out.
No, Serbia isn’t building walls and fences to keep refugees out, it simply fails to deliver its international obligation as a sovereign country in ensuring that refugees and illegal migrants do not head, stampede on perilous journeys towards Schengen countries without firstly being processed. Serbia contributes nothing to the refugee and illegal migrant crisis, it panders to their destination preferences even though majority have not been processed nor identified as being entitled to refugee status.
Unlike Serbia’s Aleksnadar Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama suggested that it is money from the EU he is after and consequently funds are on the way for the building of highway linking Albania, Kosovo and Serbia. Either way, both Prime Ministers emphasised the need to support infrastructure but I am not convinced that it’s EU that should bear the brunt and the costs of this refugee and illegal migrant crisis just because the refugees say the words to this effect: “we are going to EU, to Germany and will get there one way or another”! Clearly, the UN as the worldwide organization has failed by doing nothing much so far to bring order to this situation dangerously running amuck. Politics are taking centre stage while people in need of help suffer.

The burning issue of refugee and illegal migrants dominated the Vienna Summit. This is the problem the EU and the Balkan leaders face. Tens of thousands of people crossing the border from EU member Greece and entering Macedonia, which is not a member of EU. They’re taken to Serbia’s border and swiftly cross Serbia to the Hungarian border with the help of Serbia’s authorities. Then they reach Hungary, which is busy building a fence on the border with Serbia and, inside, busy refusing or slowing down the process for refugees moving towards the border with Austria. At the Vienna Summit Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic told the EU it was making “unrealistic demands”. “EU, you have a problem and you’re asking us, Serbia, to come up with an action plan for migrants. You should come up with an action plan first and then ask us to come up with our plan. I have to be completely open with you on this issue because we are friends”, said Dacic.

Trust a Serb foreign minister to say EU has a problem because the refugees already in Serbia say they want to go to EU! To my way of seeing things, Serbia has a problem and it’s politically twisting the issue to suit its agenda. I had always thought that the central matter for refugees is reaching safety! Choice of where that safety shall occur is a minor issue. Serbia is safe for them, so why does Serbia – and Macedonia – for that matter, not act as “grown-ups” and turn to the UN for solutions and problems rather than the EU? The EU countries are showing differing levels of willingness to help but they too, like the refugees, have a right of seeking safety and that safety, in this case, can only come by processing those who say they are refugees but, really, one doesn’t know that until checks are made. In the meantime food, shelter, health care, roof over the head, clothing are priorities for all. The likelihood is that great majority are legitimate refugees from war areas so one must tread with utmost sensitivity and humanity.

EU leaders agreed in Vienna that a new policy is needed. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, noted that some EU member states refused to take more migrants. “You all know that there is a number of EU members who are against it. But I’m sure that without a fair distribution we risk the acceptance in those countries which are currently having to take in the majority of the migrants…“ Germany’s Angela Merkel has opened the doors for the refugees without limiting numbers; she says Germany can cope.
Macedonia’s foreign minister Nikola Popovski expressed the hope that the Vienna conference will lead to what he called a European solution to the problem. Many of the observers, says Deutsche Welle, are pessimistic that these talks will produce a breakthrough.

Ahead of the Summit, the European Commission released an additional €1.5 million in humanitarian funding to assist refugees and migrants in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The aid will support humanitarian partners in helping with the provision of basic emergency services such as drinking water, hygiene, health care, shelter, and protection for refugees and migrants, improvement of the reception centres, and coordination and reporting on migration issues in the region. Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said: “The Western Balkans are dealing with an unprecedented number of transiting refugees and migrants. The EU is stepping up its humanitarian aid to provide them with urgently needed relief. This is European solidarity at its core”.
The European Commission has previously granted over €90 000 in EU humanitarian assistance to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (on July 31 2015) and €150 000 to Serbia (on August 20, 2015) in response to this emergency situation. The funding went directly to the national Red Cross Societies of the two countries. Overall EU humanitarian aid to support vulnerable refugees and migrants in Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia now amounts to €1.74 million. And Serbia’s foreign minister Dacic still complaints while his Prime Minister Vucic ascribes all the “accolades” for refugee care to Serbia even if EU funds it! Very unfair!

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that Croatia would gladly take its share of refugees as suggested by the EU distribution policy being developed. However, an action plan for this isn’t yet visible from Croatian government even though there are some buildings being prepared for that from EU funds. On the other hand, Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic believes that refugee quotas for countries to take in should not be “imposed by Brussels but indicated by countries themselves”.

I would also say that Brussels shouldn’t bear the burden but neither should individual countries – it should be UN at the helm and all countries to fall in with help.

From left: Austria president Heinz Fischer Sloveina president Borut Pahor and Croatia president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at European Alpback Forum end of August 2015

From left: Austria president Heinz Fischer
Sloveina president Borut Pahor and
Croatia president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
at European Alpback Forum end of August 2015

Croatian President’s surprising statement at the Europe Alpback Forum in Austria (around the same time as the holding of the Western Balkan Vienna Summit) suggesting that EU should cooperate with Russia on solving the Syria issue raised quite a few uneasy eyebrows around the Globe. The West is considering bombing Islamic State strongholds in Syria and for a while has wanted to rid Syria of Bashar al-Assad believing that would bring stability to the country, Russia has dug its heels in and one simply does not expect Vladimir Putin will give up his allegiance to and alliance with al-Assad that easily. Furthermore, instead of offering assistance with refugees and illegal migrants flooding Europe from Syria, Russia is announcing the building of its military bases in al-Assad’s heartland! Al-Assad can certainly not serve as a partner in fight against terrorism and, hence, indications are – neither can his ally Putin. Perhaps Croatia’s President thinks there’s ‘westward’ hope yet when it comes to Russia’s intentions in the Middle East? We live and learn, often with great unease. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. thank you for this post, i cannot comment on the humanitarian crises as i don’t have enough information but i do appreciate your clear and informative post thank you

    • Great to have been of use Kizzy – the humanitarian crisis is enormous and what really unnerves me the most is that UN seems to be happy watching individual countries handle the crisis (the people) like hot potatoes, when really organising the whole thing through dedicated processing refugee camps seems very simple to do.

  2. The Croatian President’s idea that the EU and Russia should work together to solve the conflict in Syria may not be a bad one. Perhaps Russia wants Assad to remain in power because he is an ally but they have the power to force him to stop killing his own people. If the EU help in rebuilding the country despite Assad but get assurance from him that the killing will end, maybe we could see peace there. Maybe both sides could agree to democratic elections. Peace there would help lessen the refugee crisis.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Yes, David, as I said perhaps her “hopes” carry in them possible steps forward that align with a worldwide move rather than creating political blocks. I’d love to see Russia put its hand up for several thousand refugees to process. The refugees seem to want the war to end so yes perhaps it will have to come to “give and take” from all sides for peace to come, not without IS fighters annihilation, I fear.

  3. Rainyallday says:

    Just thinking, if that family whose two young sons and mother/wife washed ashore in Turkey during the week was buried peacefully back in Syria by the husband the next day or so why are we thinking of them as refugees? Why is the death of that little three year old on the beach considered Europe’s shame? Wasn’t it the father who took his children into danger when he evidently didn’t need to flee!

    • Yes I saw the burial on TV also, Rainyallday, and it struck me odd and uneasy – if the family were running away from peril how come the father returned to the perilous area so easily and alive…

  4. The thing that bothers me is seeing these refugees and illegal migrants make demands as though they are entitled to services, to life in somebody else’s country – the refugees we know from years ago from Europe were grateful and humble and these are forceful and think we owe them a life. Oh dear, this all is looking nasty and Europe has dark days ahead

    • It seems that many still think we are in an age of entitlement, Musty – ugly thing to see, offensive too – it seems to me, albeit we must never back off from helping those in need

  5. It seems to me Europe itself has created a monster that tears it apart: one country invites the refugees and the other carts them away. Perfect scenario for chaos and infiltration of undesirables and the dangerous ones

    • I wonder who the ruler is (and if there is one) in all this evidently created and engineered chaos, Watershed. But things point to organised actions beyond the so called people smugglers

  6. Stevie10703 says:

    This is more of an invasion of Europe than it is a refugee crisis. Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries refuse to take any of these people for fear of terrorism and yet Europe is taking in some of the most well dressed “refugees” I have ever seen and there really aren’t many old people, women, and children among the groups, rather they all see like very fit and healthy younger men, why is that?

    There are videos out where in Macedonia these “migrants” refused boxes of food and supplies from the Red Cross simply because the boxes have the red cross on them. There is another video of these “migrants” at a train station in Hungary being given food and cases of water by the Hungarian police and then those people picking up the water and the food parcels and throwing them on the tracks, refusing to take them.

    While that picture of that young toddler lying dead in the water is sad, its nothing more than a propaganda piece by the media to invoke sympathy. But, why isn’t the media reporting how these “migrants” are throwing Christians into the sea to drown and some of them are children as well? The media doesn’t show you the pictures of the dead children in Syria killed by Isis terrorists because they were Christians. Why does the world remain silent about that yet, talk about these migrants that are invading Europe.

    The simple solution is simply to return these people back to where they came from. As we have seen, none will assimilate into their new countries.

    • Politics is a dirty game, Stevie, but I must say that in those crowds there are many who are true refugees, fleeing from persecution and help is to be given. It seems that Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Italy have failed miserably in failing to house the people until their identities and asylum applications are processed and then they would either move forward or be deported. One cannot return someone back to a country where their life is in danger, where their human rights are violated – Croats know that very well from post-WWII fleeing and asylum seeking from the communist Yugoslavia thugs…

      • Stevie10703 says:

        I agree, for sure. But, at the same time the question to ask is how many of these people will assimilate into Europe? Sweden for example thought all the free stuff they were giving these people from the Middle East would make them “Swedes” and accept Sweden as their new home and culture. Yet, none of that happened and you look at the crime rate and see that violent crimes such as murder and rape have gone up and nothing is being done about it and in cities like Malmo there are very little Swedish people living in them. Look at London and what is going on there with the radical Islamists and we know what is happening in Paris as well. All these countries have been kind to refugees and all have gotten their hands bit and many of these people admit that they will never assimilate into their new countries and that’s where the difference lies between us and them. We Croatians have assimilated in the USA, Canada, Australia and other places and we are proud of our Croatian backgrounds yet, we are just as proud to be Americans, Canadians and Australians. We knew that we had to adapt to our new countries, conform to their norms and customs, yet are still able to keep our heritage in tact.

        There is another issue and that is economics. While Croatia is not a destination place for many of these “migrants” there are many countries like Italy and Spain that are and their economies are so bad that it just cannot sustain all these people coming in and being a burden on the tax paying citizen. Hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions) will be spent on them and many of the countries they will be in are having massive economic problems and what happens if and when the German economy goes into recession and these people will be without jobs?

        Something isn’t good here, some of these people are being used as pawns while others are there for other reasons. As I mentioned, there’s a reason why Saudi Arabia isn’t taking them and that is they are afraid of terrorism. Hopefully, I’m wrong on this.

      • Good points Stevie but I assume that countries might think that increased population leads to increased consumers and therefore increased jobs? But this really cannot work unless unemployment is very low already which is not the case in most countries you mention…assimilation has sadly become a choice which it was not when I migrated decades ago, it was expected, nowadays a total mess with cultural identity of a nation, what we have it seems individual rather than national cultural identity and that is fraught with all sorts of problems for sure…

  7. A timely post. We see the refugees on the news each day and hope for them to find new homes.

  8. Thank you for writing this post. every country, here in Europ has to deal with them, one way or another.

    El ansia y la avidez de riquezas lleva a las multinacionales a forzar a sus títeres del criminal sistema capitalista a situaciones como esta y aún peores que nos oculta la manipulación de sus medios de confusión masiva.

    • GOOGLE TRANSLATION OF Superduque comment: The craving and greed for wealth takes multinationals to force their criminal puppet capitalist system to situations like this and even worse concealing us the manipulation of mass confusion.

      REPLY: Definitely all look orchestrated and planned and controlled to create fear and confusion, Superduque – if it were otherwise the manner of refugee lines would surely be different and not as intense. It’s a shame the innocent suffer – as always

  10. Ante Sarich says:

    Croatia has a choice. It can remain pure and poor or it can be rich and diverse.
    Given their mentaility I dont have to guess which one they will chose.
    The problem is that after 6 years of Zoran Milanovic we are still a small, weak and pathetic nation.
    The way I see it, we have no economic policy, no jobs policy, no industry policy, no population policy, no housiing policy and no foreign policy
    Basically, apart from a nice coast line, we have nothing and are doing nothing.
    A good example is our demographic crisis. Croatia is rapidly aging, young people are leaving and young couples are not having children.
    If our economy was stronger and had decent housing (instead of housing bubbles), we could easily welcome some refugees from war-torn areas.
    It it quite understandable why refugees want to go to Germany. I would want to go their too. Why stay in Croatia or Hungary? Two miserable nations who cannot even look after their own people let alone help others.
    I forgot to mention Croatia’s insane anti-diaspora policy carried out with such fervence by the fanatical left.

    • Oh, I do so agree with you, Ante. Well put. Much serious work ahead – as always. Hopefully the political same old same old will run out of oxygen in time

  11. Michael Silovic says:

    For the time being Croatia should stay poor and pure if that’s what it takes to protect our culture and heritage.Until the goverment allows it to be easier and faster to give citizenship to generational Diasporas there is no way I would support refugees in any large number. CROATIA AND THE CROATIAN PEOPLE MUST ALWAYS BE PUT FIRST . The numbers that are expected to be taken is estimated up to 3000 which is a lie. In fact it is a trap by the EU to sucker small countries into this false notion before they dump literally thousands more.There is also a difference in Refugees status and economic status as well and a majority coming across are economic not refugee status. Croatia can not even take care of its elderly in the smaller villages who barely have food to eat but are yet willing to support refugees is disgusting.Talk about sending refugees to Vukovar is turning my stomach as if there aren’t enough problems there as it is.The EU is nothing more then a headache for Croatia full of FALSE HOPE AND PROMISES. The Croatian goverment is not capable of governing its own people in providing the best for them now how do they think they will handle it with such a small budget being promised by the EU?. The debt is astronomical in Croatia and adding more people who contribute nothing to its growth will make it even harder to achieve prosperity for Croats. It is time that all countries of the world look inward towards themselves and people and do what is right. Israel with twice the population of Croatia and receiving billions in foreign aid will not take any refugees because they claim there country is so small. They reject anyone’s overture in doing so but yet no one is cutting aid to them.If they are able not to accept any then neither should Croatia which is smaller and poorer. The difference between the Israeli goverment and Croatian government is that Israel will not allow itself to be manipulated and the current Croatian goverment is acting as puppets. The pictures of the child washing up on shore is tragic and sorrowful. But this family had lived and worked in Turkey for 3 years before deciding to illegally get on a boat and illegally enter a country and this has nothing to do with being a refugee escaping from war. The father should be criminally charged for the death of his family as a participant in such a crime. Time to separate truth from fiction.

    • I agree Michael, Croatia is just incapable of sustaining large numbers of these people and yes I too agree most are illegal migrants but choose to confuse by fleeing together with true refugees. It’ll be so interesting to find out who are and who are not refugees in all this and the trying stuff is that all must be helped regardless until then. Yes I heard on news that the family of that little boy washed up on beach in Turkey was not fleeing persecution in Syria, and the details you say. That’s why I say UN has failed to install the rule of registration and IDing in first country not in war they reach but lets them go forth to a desired destination which has proved dangerous….

  12. Michael Silovic says:

    What is very dangerous is that a lot of these people have no identification so no one even knows their true identity. Nice way to gain status in a country that was illegally invaded.Germany is opening a can of worms by allowing people in that they can not even identify.Whats even worse is allowing Brussels and the EU as a whole decide how many should go to what countries. This is not a one time event. There will be literally hundreds of thousands of illegals coming in the coming months if not millions in the next few years. Hungary has it right in defending their borders and using their military if they need to to stop this madness. An invasion of a border is an invasion whether it is armed or not. The notion that people of other ethnicity and cultures can live happily together is a false notion that will destroy many smaller countries in a matter of years.Every country should have their own right as to who they want to live in their country and not be dictated to by the larger powers.If Slovakia doesn’t want to accept Muslims then that country should have the right not to accept any.Croatia should not accept any as we have enemies on our border already and in our own goverment that care more about the EU then our own people. Populating Vukovar with refugees as is being suggested will with out doubt create a major conflict. What a mess we are in for and sadly my worst fear for our country has come true. ~ Za Dom Spremni~

    • Yes Michael, it is infuriating how a sense of entitlement travels and yet if we want to go live in another country we need to go through impossible paths and in more cases not succeed.

  13. Perhaps if the United States and Russia will stop selling weapons would have peace.


  14. A great informative post Ina.. I just wish the heads of nations would all get their heads together instead the colder weather is looming and the numbers are growing ever larger.. This is a problem that will not go away or be easily solved..

    New Thinking, and altering of perceptions is needed.. Is this a New World we are witnessing emerging? as it’s changing right before our eyes.. And lets make no mistakes, the ripple effect Will affect us all.

    Love and Blessings
    Sue xx

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