Diplomatic Quarrels Surge As Refugee Influx Into Croatia Grows Unbearably

Dumped in "nowhere in the dark of night" by Serbia near Croatian border at Strosinci Marko Drobnjakovic / Keystone

Dumped in “nowhere in
the dark of night” by Serbia
near Croatian border at Strosinci
Marko Drobnjakovic / Keystone

According to Wall Street Journal (which is also the figure given by Croatian HRT TV news) 67,000 refugees and illegal migrants have come into Croatia over the past 10 days. Confusion, rather ugly and unnecessary recriminations and diplomatic spats between Serbia, Croatia and Hungary gripped the nations throughout the past week and Croatian authorities struggled to keep up with the massive influx, constant flow of refugees crossing from Serbia.

Croatia at first welcomed the migrants, thinking they would transit through to Slovenia, Austria and then Germany. But Slovenia refused to let the people pass, leaving Croatia responsible for tens of thousands of people. The government in Zagreb then accused Serbia of shunting the refugees into its territory and closed the border pass near Tovarnik which led to a standstill for the cargo trucks crossing into and out of Serbia. Hungary had shut itself from Serbia by building a high fence.

Most refugees reaching Croatia from Serbia were and are given temporary shelter in a recently built refugee reception centre in the village of Opatovac near the Serbian border, not far from Tovarnik. Then they are usually taken on buses and trains to three border crossings with Hungary.

Strosinci Croatia Saturday 26 September 2015

Strosinci Croatia
Saturday 26 September 2015

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said earlier this week his government would continue erecting fences on its borders with fellow European Union member states Romania and Croatia that are outside Europe’s document-free Schengen travel zone; they have already completed the fence between Hungary and Serbia, which in fact triggered the massive influx into Croatia.

Leaflet given to refugees while in Serbia. At a border crossing near Bapska, Croatia, volunteers distributed fliers telling refugees they were in Serbia and would get passage to Austria. Photo: Max J. Rosenthal

Leaflet given to refugees
while in Serbia.
At a border crossing near Bapska, Croatia,
volunteers distributed fliers
telling refugees they were in Serbia
and would get passage to Austria.
Photo: Max J. Rosenthal

Relations between Croatia and Serbia heated up to almost the 1990 level when Croatia announced it would secede from communist Yugoslavia and Serbia started “sharpening its knives to attack Croatia” in the event that Croatian people actually seceded from Yugoslavia. However, after an emergency meeting Friday (25 September 2015) night, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told Croatian state TV that Serbia will “absolutely” lift its embargo on Croatian goods. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he lifted the blockade, reopened the border crossings at Bajakovo and Tovarnik, but that he may reinstate the blockade again if Serbia keeps on busing migrants to the Croatian border instead of sending at least some of them up north to the border with Hungary. Croatian government believes that Serbia has reached a secret deal with Hungary over refugees and is deliberately sending them towards Croatia after Hungary sealed its borders in mid-September. And I personally wouldn’t put such a dirty trick past Serbia, either!

A child jumps over a ditch as people wait in order to clear a police line after entering Croatia from Serbia in Strosinci, Croatia, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. Conciliation replaced confrontation among European nations which have clashed over their response to a wave of migration, but confusion faced many asylum-seekers streaming into Croatia on Saturday in hopes of chasing a new future in Western Europe. Photo: MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC — AP Photo

A child jumps over a ditch
as people wait in order to
clear a police line after entering Croatia
from Serbia in Strosinci, Croatia,
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015.
Conciliation replaced confrontation among
European nations which have clashed
over their response to a wave of migration,
but confusion faced many asylum-seekers
streaming into Croatia on Saturday
in hopes of chasing a new future
in Western Europe.
Photo: MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC — AP Photo

Cooperation replaced confrontation Saturday among European nations as thousands of asylum-seekers streamed into Croatia in hopes of creating a new future in Western Europe. At least 10,000 arrived on Friday alone, and Croatian authorities struggled to keep up with the influx of those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Sent here from Belgrade, Serbia migrants found themselves not knowing where they were in the wilderness near Strosinci, Croatia Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Sent here from Belgrade, Serbia
migrants found themselves
not knowing where they were
in the wilderness near Strosinci, Croatia
Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

At one tiny border crossing point, Croatian police said thousands were abandoned at a remote crossing after Serb authorities bused them to a point near the village of Strosinci and left.
Unclear where they were, the migrants tried to cross into Croatia, but got lost in the nearby cornfields. Croatian police found them, and called in buses to take the travelers to the nearby transit camp at Opatovac, but individual families were separated in the chaos.

This new crossing at Erdut through the village of Strosinci into Croatia from Serbia has emerged during the night between Friday 25 September and Saturday 26th. Serbia’s buses filled with refugees were driven to the nearby stretch of forests, fields throughout the night and refugees dumped there in the dark of the night to find their way across the fields and forests into Croatia. The refugees slept in the cold fields and were evacuated by Croatian authorities as it was feared that the heavy rainfall that occurred in the night might have dislodged the landmines in the forest still there from the war, left by Serbs, posing a real threat to refugees’ lives.

Escorted by Croatian police from forests and fields into Strosinci, Croatis Saturday 26 September 2015

Escorted by Croatian police
from forests and fields
into Strosinci, Croatis
Saturday 26 September 2015

In unusually blunt but perhaps necessarily decisive language, Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had during the week criticised on Croatian Nova TV Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and just fell short of accusing Merkel of causing “chaos” in Europe.
Mrs Merkel called them, and now she’s pulled the handbrake by saying Germany cannot absorb all these economic migrants,” Grabar-Kitarovic told Croatian television.  “She makes out as if she wasn’t aware that pulling the handbrake when so many cars were on the road would cause chaos. This needs to be resolved now.”
As one would expect there were those who supported this commentary and opinion regarding Merkel’s actions in this refugee crisis expressed by Croatia’s president Grabar-Kitarovic and, of course, there were those who criticised Grabar-Kitarovic, saying she had insulted the German Chancellor. Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic was the first in Croatia to characterise President Grabar-Kitarovic’s assessment of Merkel’s actions as insulting to Merkel. But one wouldn’t expect much better from a Prime Minister who is struggling to keep afloat amid the shockingly damaging performance to the Croatian economy by his government in this per-elections period.

Angela Merkel and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

Angela Merkel and
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

The fact is that while Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Macedonia were splitting at the seams, paralysed in attempts to cope with the unbearably large numbers of refugees trying to reach the richer EU countries such as Germany, Sweden, Netherlands…Angela Markel kept encouraging the refugees on to take the perilous journey by saying they are all welcome in Germany! Indeed Merkel’s “calls” to the refugee had caused Hungary’s Victor Orban to express harsh words against Merkel and Germany this last week as well as before. Extraordinary scenes played out at an emergency European Union (EU) summit in Belgium on 23 September after the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, criticised Germany’s “invitation” to migrants and warned the crisis had only just began.

Viktor Orban

Viktor Orban

The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban then accused Germany of “moral imperialism”. French president Francois Hollande responded by telling Orban he should “respect European values” or leave while Slovakia reaffirmed its commitment to defy forced migration quotas.

 

 

The European Council president Donald Tusk in a thinly veiled attack on the German chancellor Angela Merkel said: “It is likely that more refugees will flow towards Europe. Especially as almost all of them feel invited to Europe,” referring to Merkel’s promise to offer asylum to any Syrian this August, no matter how many safe countries they pass through, and regardless of whether or not they come from a dangerous region.

Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk

The most urgent question we should ask ourselves tonight is how to regain control of our external borders… Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense to even speak about common migration policy. What is at stake is also the future of Schengen, the sense of order in Europe and the common European spirit.”
After “inviting” tens of millions of people into Europe last month, Germany was quickly overwhelmed, closed its boarder and on 22 September forced through a policy to resettle the migrants in other EU member states against their will. Viktor Orban directed his anger at Angela Merkel. “The most important thing is that there should be no moral imperialism … Hungary should have the right to control the impact of a mass migration. The Hungarian people don’t want this,” he said.
Orban followed with an unexpected threat, that unless other EU nations started controlling their borders, Hungary would set up a corridor “through which the refugees or migrants can go to Austria or Germany.”
France’s François Hollande told Mr Orban that if he did not like it, his country should leave the EU: “States that don’t respect European values should ask if they belong within the EU,” he said.
The Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico repeated his promise to break EU law and refuse to bow to the German “diktat,” by turning away the 800 migrants who will be sent to his nation. “Slovakia is not going to respect mandatory quotas,” he said.

Refugees entering Strosinci, Croatia, Satrurday 26 September 2015

Refugees entering Strosinci,
Croatia, Saturday 26 September 2015

While In New York, at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit since Friday 25 September the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told Croatian TV news that the Croatian decisions regarding any border closures would be made in collaboration with the EU, that Croatia must show solidarity and not enter into quarrels with the neighbours (as Prime Minister Milanovic has with Serbia and Hungary) and instead of closing border crossings she sought stricter controls at the border.
We need to keep the official border crossings open and close the corn fields, forests, farm fields where the refugees and migrants cross illegally,” Grabar-Kitarovic said to HRT TV news Saturday 26 September from New York. “So, everything we do needs to be done with cooperation and agreement with the EU and in compliance with that which has already been agreed upon – to protect the external borders, primarily between Turkey and Greece, and I would also continue insisting that Croatia receives assistance in controlling the border between Serbia and Croatia.”

 

Miro Cerar

Miro Cerar

Slovenia’s Prime Minister Miro Cerar said at the UN summit that his country “together with other European countries has intensified the activities in resolving the current migration crisis in Europe. The main principles of our action are based on humanity and solidarity but also security. We should pool our efforts in combating illegal migration and suppressing the trafficking of migrants and human beings.”
Let’s trust the coming weeks will bring more visible cooperation on the global level, steered by the UN, to help solve this EU refugee and illegal migrant crisis or at least bring some order in the movement of refugees, otherwise increased unrest on the streets of affected EU countries, calling for greater input by the people in decisions made, will be the likely scenario. Perhaps that is exactly what is needed as more and more we are faced with the politicians making decisions that seriously affect people’s lives without reference to the people. This crisis has the potential of triggering changes to the EU map, to UN’s global role and to reinvigorate the long-forgotten grass root role in the “Western” democratic processes and decisions generally. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia Caught in EU Refugee Bedlam

Refugees stream into Croatia Saturday 19 September 2015 Photo: Marko Mrkonjic/Pixsell

Refugees stream into Croatia
Saturday 19 September 2015
Photo: Marko Mrkonjic/Pixsell

According to Croatian HRT TV news, Saturday 19 September evening edition, 21 000 refugees have entered Croatia from Serbia since Wednesday. The refugees, often referred to as the migrants, mostly from poor or war-torn countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, have streamed into Croatia since Wednesday, after Hungary blocked what had been the main route with a metal and razor-wire fence and riot police at its border with Serbia. Serbian authorities had then steered them and assisted them to Croatia’s borders and after Croatia closed its border with Serbia during the week, the refugees found alternative routes: they walked into Croatia through forests, corn and farm fields.

Crossing the border to Croatia across farms and cornfields

Crossing the border to Croatia
across farms and cornfields

Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic wants to redirect the refugees flowing into his country to Hungary and Slovenia. He says Croatia can no longer receive refugees. However, the Hungarian government has, during the past couple of days, raised a barbed-wire fence along some 41 kilometer land border between it and Croatia (the rest of the border is a river) to keep the refugees out. Croatia has already transferred to the Hungarian border some 4,000 refugees and a couple of thousand to the Slovenian border. Both Hungary and Slovenia are resisting receiving the refugees and keep pounding vitriolic comments against Croatia.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanoviuc inspects a refugee food and first aid tent

Croatian Prime Minister
Zoran Milanoviuc inspects
a refugee food and first aid tent

After suddenly finding itself in the path of Europe’s biggest tide of migrants for decades, Croatia said on Friday it could no longer offer them refuge and would wave them on, challenging the EU to find a policy to receive them.
We cannot register and accommodate these people any longer,” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told a news conference in the capital Zagreb.

“They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on. The European Union must know that Croatia will not become a migrant ‘hotspot’. We have hearts, but we also have heads.”

The arrival of 21,000 since Wednesday morning, many crossing fields and some dodging police, has proved too much for Croatia. It cannot sustain the burden economically or facilities wise.

 

The refugee crisis has left the EU scrambling for an effective response. Hungary has begun threatening Croatia that it will not recommend it becomes a Schengen area member state since it cannot contain its borders or offer aid to the influx of refugees. This criticism regarding humanitarianism comes from a country that just built 4-meter fences along its borders and chased off the refugees with tear gas and other types of violence as well as still sending bus loads to the Austrian border!

Police assist refugees in Croatia

Police assist refugees in Croatia

With tempers clearly fraying, anything could happen in EU. Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic on Friday 18 September talked on the telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the two agreed that the problem of the current migrant wave had to be solved on the EU’s external borders.

Such a scenario is actually alarming given that the refugees clearly do not want to remain at EU’s external borders – Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Italy…so one wonders what Merkel and Milanovic meant by solving the problem on the EU’s external borders? Would force need to be used?

Refugees in Tovarnik, Croatia waiting in line for food

Refugees in Tovarnik, Croatia
waiting in line for food

Italy and Greece say they cannot cope with migrants coming by sea who, under the EU’s Dublin system, should be given shelter and potentially asylum in the first EU state they enter. Germany, France and other northern states complain Italy and Greece are ignoring the Dublin rules on registering asylum-seekers and helping them travel north through the Schengen area. They now complain Italy and Greece are slow to accept EU help to properly register migrants and send back non-refugees, meaning many can drift across Europe working without documents. Hungary blames Greece for the tens of thousands arriving there this summer and has now fenced off its border with Serbia and its new target to throw blame against is Croatia! Slovenia has also entered the blame and rejection game. It too, like Hungary says it will protect the Schengen borders! Greece and Italy are within the Schengen area also but have not protected the borders and, instead, moved the refugees onward into Europe – let someone else worry about them, would sum it up.

Assisting refugees onto buses in Croatia Saturday 19 September 2015

Assisting refugees onto buses
in Croatia
Saturday 19 September 2015

Germany, France and others criticise eastern states led by Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary for blocking a larger Jean Claude Juncker plan to relocate 120,000 according to quotas. Some say these ex-Communist states lack solidarity after years of receiving EU subsidies and could be penalised by having their grants cut. These eastern European countries accuse Germany of bullying, say relocation will only draw in more immigrants who will, in any case, not want to stay in eastern Europe but will defy the unenforceable Dublin rules and cross Schengen borders to Germany. They say that the EU bailed out Greece on a number of occasions and yet it does not seem to be getting the harsh criticism from Brussels as they are. Obviously EU isn’t going to change its composition of egotistical states any time soon.
Stung by criticism of “Brussels” for not being able to quieten the squabbles between member states affected by the refugee crisis, European Commission officials have noted that their power is limited. Variations in the welcome given to refugees or benefits offered are national prerogatives.

Croatia and refugee crisis in EU

Croatia and
refugee crisis in EU

An EU emergency response system to provide extra frontier guards has been canvassed in Brussels but such a mechanism can only be triggered by invitation – something Athens, caught up in debt crisis and new elections, has yet to issue, reports Reuters.

Comforted by a strong vote on Thursday 17 September for its mandatory quota proposal in the European Parliament, another federalist institution, the European Commission declared this “a clear signal to … ministers … that it is high time to act and finally agree”.
But national leaders insist on first seeking consensus among states. “I feel an allergy to coercion,” their summit’s chairman Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, said last week.
Juncker last week suggested a common EU border guard service and some officials believe a single EU asylum system could make better sense than a patchwork of national policies.

Syrian refugees in Croatia

Syrian refugees (or migrants?) in Croatia

Now, one cannot throw caution to the wind and not ponder on the unwanted eventuality of EU setting up large refugee camps in Croatia as part of the solution, given that Croatia is outside the Schengen area. Could that possibility be in what Milanovic and Merkel reportedly agreed upon? That the problem needs to be solved on EU’s external borders! Could Croatia end up being a huge camp in which the refugees are housed until processed, until their refugee status confirmed or rejected and from where they would either be distributed to other EU countries or deported out of EU? Large numbers are in question. It’s estimated that besides the 500,000 that have already entered European Union countries, another 500,000 are expected the coming year. Having in mind points of entry one can estimate that about 200,000 will enter through Greece and then up to Croatia/Hungary. Such overwhelming numbers would have alarming and destructive effects on the culture and life in Croatia as we know it with large doses of security issues to breeding of radicalism and terrorism as has been observed in other EU countries where multiculturalism has been developing for decades.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic President Of Croatia Photo: Ivo Cagalj/Pixsell

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
President Of Croatia
Photo: Ivo Cagalj/Pixsell

Croatia’s Vecernji List reports that president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic had Saturday 19 September spoken to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several state leaders about the migration crisis. She emphasised that the problem of the crisis is not only Croatian but also European and global and that it needs to be solved according to those premises. She said that Croatia would insist on solving the problem as being a global one as opposed to a local one. She expects that some 40,000 refugees will enter Croatia in the coming two days and that measures of security and other matters must be put in place in order to secure stability.
Croatia is not a country of first entry, Serbia is qualified as a safe country and therefore there is no need for thousands of migrants to cross over daily to Croatia, we cannot absorb them. We must, first of all, be realistic, secure safety of our own citizens and the stability of our country. We must know who the people crossing our borders are, that it be under supervision, at official crossings, not illegally, then we need to know where they are going because we cannot take care of so many on a long term basis,” she said.
Now all Croatia needs is a consensus between the Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic regarding the safety and security but the likelihood of that happening to an ideal level is quite slim with general elections “around the corner”. I do so agree with President Grabar-Kitarovic that the problem is global and the UN must start playing a bigger role. That particularly with view to establishing more refugee camps outside the EU countries, including Serbia if they reach it from Turkey/Greece. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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)

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