Europe’s Dithering Compassion Ignites Fears Of Inability To Cope With Refugee Crisis In Croatia

Refugees/migrants overwhelm Europe in 2015 and likely to continue in 2016

Refugees/migrants overwhelm Europe
in 2015 and likely to continue in 2016


In the second half of 2015, the Eastern, the South-Eastern European and the Balkan countries caused an overwhelming number of headlines when it comes to migration. Hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees from the Middle East made their way to the West through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, as well as Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia. All this fueled by the “welcome all, come to Germany” message trumpeted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
For Croatia and all other countries in the East/South Europe region, regardless of whether an EU member state or not and given the evident rush of these migrants/refugees to reach their desired destination in Germany and the West of Europe, providing for a smooth and orderly passage was not an easy task by any stretch of imagination. The refugees were nevertheless assisted through in the direction of Austria and Germany.

Croatian border late 2015 inundated with refugees/migrants

Croatian border late 2015
inundated with refugees/migrants

To a large extent, governments along the so-called Balkan route, including Croatia, recognised the problem too late and were largely unprepared for the influx but as weeks rolled by the countries en route to Austria, Germany and the rest of the desired destinations became more organised, set up temporary refugee camps, made available trains and buses (and private taxis hurled along to earn a buck) that would transport the refugees to the border of the next country. The EU quota system by which each member state was supposed to take in a certain number of refugees caused resentment in the region and some countries, like Hungary, swiftly raised border fences including razor-wire ones to stop and divert the masses stampeding in. Slovenia followed Hungary and raised the fences on border between it and Croatia; Hungary and Slovenia said they would protect the Schengen border from the influx of the people escaping the Middle East or North Africa any which way.
The massive movements of migrants through and from the Balkans have forcefully shifted the issue of EU external borders into focus. The EU has tried to avoid this topic for more than a decade but time is running out for addressing it if it wants to get the waves of refugees under control. The enormous by number refugee and migration movements of 2015 are likely to increase in 2016, once Spring comes (although deep winter and snowfalls cover the region at this moment, thousands of refugees/migrants are still making their way from Turkey, across Greece and along the so-called Balkan route) the numbers are likely to increase to perhaps unmanageable proportions. This would seem a logical conclusion and prediction to make given the widespread hunger and devastation in the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq, resulting from the Islamic State terrorists but also their opposition. The mass migration into Europe from the Middle East has a security aspect inasmuch as religious radicalisation in the Muslim societies of the region poses a potential risk for the affected countries and for the whole of Europe.

Screenshot RT news January 2016

Screenshot RT news January 2016

Not only the EU, but NATO also needs to protect its borders in the Balkans. In 2015, NATO members Romania and Bulgaria repeatedly warned that the Ukraine conflict had put them in a potentially very dangerous situation. Both countries joined the sanctions against Russia, while Bucharest and Moscow also have tensions over Moldova. The geopolitical and energy-policy aspirations of the Kremlin in the region must be taken very seriously. On the one hand we have a country like Serbia, which is in a strategic partnership with Russia, and on the other Montenegro, which has just received an invitation to join NATO,” writes Deutsche Welle.


Migrants break the police blockade to enter into Macedonia from Greece late 2015 (AP Photo/Vlatko Perkovski)

Migrants break the police blockade
to enter into Macedonia
from Greece late 2015
(AP Photo/Vlatko Perkovski)

With her popularity and political longevity seriously and consistently being eroded German Chancellor Angela Merkel has during the past week increased her rhetoric on tough measures in Germany that would reduce the number of refugees/migrants coming in, tighten Germany’s border controls, increase the number of those being deported or sent back to the countries along the so-called Balkan route (which includes Croatia) and hasten the asylum seeking process as well as time to be taken to whisk or deport those who are found not to be genuine asylum seekers.
On January 15 Slovenia’s Prime Minister met the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in Berlin, mainly to discuss the migration issue in Europe, says on the government of Slovenia Internet portal.


Loud and clear messages coming out of Slovenia in the past days include the resolve in Slovenia to drastically reduce the number of refugees/migrants entering Slovenia if Austria and Germany restrict their intake of migrants. Indeed, the awful statistics of sexual abuse and violence reportedly perpetrated against German women by men many of who are said to be refugees and asylum seekers during the past weeks has raised and intensified the political and civic activities that would see tighter controls of migrants as well as reduction in numbers that will be received in Western Europe.

Slovenia/Croatia border Slovenia raises razor-wire fences late 2015

Slovenia/Croatia border
Slovenia raises razor-wire fences
late 2015

Raised level of fear that it will become impossibly and alarmingly clogged up with new refugees/migrants as well as those sent back from Germany, Austria, Slovenia is surfacing across Croatia and it would seem that such fear is justified. There is more talk about control and reduction of refugees/migrants across Europe than what there is about compassion. Of course, the often reported incidents of refugees/migrants acting as if they are entitled to a comfortable living in countries they have arrived in does not do much to alleviate the intensely felt lack of compassion towards those running from certain death or starvation.

More importantly for Croatia, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Miro Cerar’s visit to Berlin last week seems to be heralding an erection of an even more forbidding wall between Croatia and Slovenia than what razor-wire fencing represents. Would this leave Croatia as a distressing bottleneck in the passage of refugees/migrants to the West is anybody’s guess but certainly the recently seen resolve to reach a European country of choice in the people fleeing the Middle East would strongly suggest that there is no strong enough barrier, bar waging an armed war against the refugees/migrants, that could stop these people reaching the West.

Syrian migrants breaking through razor-wire fencing Hungary/Croatia border

Syrian migrants breaking through
razor-wire fencing
Hungary/Croatia border

Furthermore, would this mean that the EU discriminates between its member states by excluding Croatia from increased measures to control the refugee/migrant influx just because Croatia is not yet a member state of the Schengen EU area?
Even further, would this mean that Croatia itself will need to protect its own sanity and ability to cope with the influx of refugees/migrants, registering them and checking their identification papers, by erecting razor-wire fences, putting police at the border with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to control the influx?

The EU commission keeps releasing phrases and fears that passport-free travel area, the Schengen Zone, was under threat that is directly associated with the refugee/migrant crisis. More and more member states have reintroducing border controls in response to migrant movements, including Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Austria and now Slovenia is making loud noises in aid of such a prospect.

Austria Suspends Schengen 16 January 2016

Austria Suspends Schengen
16 January 2016

If Schengen collapses the collapse will be the beginning of the end of the European project. The European Commission is reportedly working on measures to create a more sustainable migration system. The steps would include financial assistance, a revision of the blue card immigration system and a new plan for resettling asylum seekers. The Commission is said to release its proposals in March 2016.
However, there is no doubt that what is happening on the EU ground and in the countries surrounding the EU or on the path of this migration crisis, is more and more a matter of fighting for self-preservation. While the European Commission insists on unity and camaraderie between member states when it comes to managing the refugee/migrant crisis – cultivating the symbol of “Solidarity” that caught on from Eastern Europe across the whole Western world some three decades ago – these days the symbol that Donald Trump’s stance on anti-migration represents seems to be making serious inroads across EU countries. Measures to control refugee/migrant influx, measures to stop it are an increasing content-filler on political podiums as well as the media. Schengen borders are considered in these restrictive measures more often than EU borders. Some EU countries point the finger at the other, some justify their policies of controlling and reducing the number of refugees/migrants they will let in while they expect the other country to take all that come through its borders – a mess of biblical proportions in unfolding in Europe. Croatia should indeed become gravely concerned about being excluded from EU migration measures just because it stands outside the Schengen borders. Regardless of the ugly parts of its face, as in the US so too in Europe, these are more and more the times when political leaders are generating the feeling that the only way to regain or keep political support is by showing that they care for their own, and not much for the refugees/migrants or aliens and Croatia would be wise to start reading these messages and act accordingly. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: To Schengen Or Not To Schengen


Map of Schengen Area 2013 (Click image to enlarge) Photo credit:

Map of Schengen Area 2013
(Click image to enlarge)
Photo credit:

When at the end of the 16th century Shakespeare, in Hamlet, inserted his soliloquy “to be or not to be” little did he know that its popularity would endure centuries and be called upon in almost every aspect of human existence, leaving the character of his moody Prince irrelevant to the plight. The 21st century will largely be marked by the globalisation trend in all aspects of human existence. All nations/countries are experiencing dealing with people and struggles to keep a niche in the crowded, competitive world and many are crumbling. In many of its aspects the Schengen Area can be viewed as a mini-globe, pursuing globalisation within itself.
Upon his current visit to Estonia Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has Monday 26 January announced that he aims for Croatia to lodge its request for membership in the Schengen Area of EU, which is a 26-nation zone that does not require a passport for travel between the countries, by 1 July 2015, reports Croatian media.
We are going to apply for the full membership of the Schengen regime at the earliest convenient and legal day that is July 1st, 2015, two years after accession to EU and then assessment period will ensue. We have expectations, it matters to us, we are a tourist economy. Relying heavily on profitable tourist industry and the freedom of movement and safety of visitors, of whom majority are Europeans is of paramount importance to us,” said Milanovic in Estonia.
The main features of Schengen Area are the creation of a single external border, and a single set of rules for policing the border. Among the other measures/aspects are:
• EU citizens traveling, working and living in any EU country without special formalities
• Common rules on asylum
• Pursuit of criminals – police have the right to chase suspected criminals across borders
• Separation in airports of people traveling within the Schengen area from other passengers
• Common list of countries whose nationals require visas
• Creation of the Schengen Information System (SIS) which allows police stations and consulates to access a shared database of wanted or undesirable people and stolen goods
• Joint efforts to fight drug-related crime
According to the website: “joining the Schengen Area is not merely a political decision. Countries must also fulfill a list of pre-conditions, such as be prepared and have the capacity to:
• take responsibility for controlling the external borders on behalf of the other Schengen States and for issuing uniform Schengen visas
• efficiently cooperate with law enforcement agencies in other Schengen States in order to maintain a high level of security once border controls between Schengen countries are abolished
• apply the common set of Schengen rules (the so-called “Schengen acquis”), such as controls of land, sea and air borders (airports), issuing of visas, police cooperation and protection of personal data
• connect to and use the SIS.
Applicant countries undergo a ‘Schengen evaluation’ before joining the Schengen Area and periodically thereafter to ensure the correct application of the legislation”.



No doubt about it, Schengen has brought new freedoms to the citizens of member countries – particularly freedom of movement, freedom to choose a country of abode, freedom to obtain education from any institution within the borders, freedom to seek and obtain employment in any member country, free trade…
But Schengen has also given rise to much scepticism.
While many of its features have been beneficial, problems are emerging for certain economies and countries, especially the smaller and the economically weaker ones. So while free trade and the free movement of labour are generally seen as positive and a thing to latch onto they can mean a serious downside for smaller and/or economically struggling countries, and Croatia is one of those.
Free trade forces all countries to compete using an even playing field, which puts the smaller and less developed countries behind their bigger more developed counterparts. And, when one looks at how the Croatian industry, manufacture and production base has been depleted through often-suspicious privatisations and corruption Croatia is indeed on a weak, shaky leg to compete.
Another downside of Schengen is the phenomenon known as ‘labour drain.’ Since Schengen allows workers to easily move from one country to another, countries with limited job opportunities often find it difficult to encourage skilled workers to stay in their countries. Croatia has seen a relatively enormous “labour drain” particularly of young and highly skilled people who find it an existential necessity to leave the country and seek jobs elsewhere. Little, if anything, is being done in Croatia to beef-up job opportunities, if anything more jobs have been lost than gained in the critical economic climate of the past decade.
There are few issues that define national sovereignty as much as border control does and as much as the EU and Schengen argue that membership does not take away the national sovereignty of a member state it is an open and shut case that in a borderless area the member countries will find it harder and harder to exercise supreme authority over themselves. Border control also means immigration control. The seeming lack of a clear common law regarding immigration into Schengen Area makes way for possibilities for an immigrant to legalise their situation in one member country and to reside in another. Similarly, illegal immigration can just cross one external border to access any member country.


Many analysts say that the expansion of the Schengen Area has not only brought new freedoms but also given rise to scepticism and fears about a lack of control and an increase in crime.


To qualify as member of Schengen Area Croatia has a great deal to fix in its border control, Eastern borders would become a part of the critically important external border Schengen countries depend upon, but the EU funds are available to assist significantly in this. What I’m picking up from various media contents from Croatia is that the Croatian government is focusing on border control as its major issue for joining Schengen. I find little if anything addressing the more important issues of citizens’ daily lives and existence, the success of which will largely depend on entrepreneurial and business competition/enterprising skills at all levels, from the small farmer to the large company. Certainly Milanovic’s Social Democrat government and the mandates of the two last Presidents – Stjepan Mesic and Ivo Josipovic (in whose mandates EU negotiations and accession ensued) – have seen no attempts of note that would set in motion an adequate improvement to the blanket culture of business competition and entrepreneurship.


Becoming a member country of Schengen will also mean that Croatian domestic firms and businesses may no longer be protected from various tariffs that can be quite high. In a climate of increased competition one also realises that increased competition implies the survival of low cost firms and lower prices and raised encouragement of product innovation. The reality is that Croatian firms and businesses (perhaps excluding the tourism industry) will need miracles to find a niche in order to survive within such competitive environment. They are the ones who , if Croatian is accepted into Schengen Area, will not be asking themselves “to Schengen or not to Schengen” but rather the survival or existential question: “to be or not to be” – unless of course, substantial energy and resources are invested into education and development of skills of competition all the way along to the smallest farmer. They certainly inherited nothing of that sort from communist Yugoslavia and its socialist regulated economy. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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