Vienna is considering deploying troops and police to the Balkans to reduce the flow of refugees on the route between the Turkish coast and Central Europe. “In the worst case” they will be stopped on the Austrian border, officials warn.
At an informal meeting of EU’s foreign and defense ministers in Amsterdam on Friday, Austria’s top officials said Vienna is working out hardline approaches towards refugees who reach Western Europe via the so-called Balkan route.
This 2,819-kilometer route is now the main passageway for refugees trying to reach Western Europe and Scandinavia via the Balkans.
It begins on the Turkish coastline, where migrants embark on boats or improvised vessels, and then goes through mainland Greece and Slovenia. Non-EU Macedonia and Serbia are harder to reach due to border closures and newly erected fences.Feb 6, Associated Press: EU ministers want to buttress borders to stem migrant flow
By MIKE CORDER and RAF CASERT, Associated Press
AMSTERDAM (AP) — European Union nations anxious to stem the flow of asylum-seekers coming through the Balkans are increasingly considering sending more help to non-member Macedonia as a better way to protect European borders instead of relying on EU member Greece.
With Athens unable to halt the tens of thousands of people making the sea crossing from Turkey, EU nations fear that Europe's Schengen border-free travel zone could collapse, taking with it one of the cornerstones on which the 28-nation bloc is built.
"If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn't accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another defense line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria," Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto said at Saturday's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.
An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming its coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has shelter for only about 10,000 people, just over 1 percent of those who have entered. Most of the asylum-seekers then travel on across the Balkans and into the EU's heartland of Germany and beyond.
Szijjarto said EU nations are "defenseless from the south. There are thousands of irregular migrants entering the territory of the EU on a daily basis."
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the cash-strapped government in Athens still underestimates the crisis.
"I still don't have the feeling that it has dawned on Greece how serious the situation is" for receiving nations like Austria, he said.
The situation has pushed some EU nations to send bilateral aid to Macedonia, a non-EU nation, to control its border with EU member Greece. There has been even talk of sending military troops to Macedonia to beef up the Greek border.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said after the meeting it did not matter what the aid was technically called.
"The essential thing is that we have people and equipment to control the border and do registration where legal crossing should happen," he said.
He said Macedonia has already put its own military on the job.
"They're making sure that we have decreased the illegal crossings through our border and we're going to continue to make these efforts," he said.
Because of the relentless influx of people, several EU members have re-imposed border crossings to manage the flow into their nations better. EU officials, however, are doing their utmost to keep the Schengen zone as open as possible and want member states to focus on reinforcing the zone's external borders only.
[...]February 6, RT: Dozens arrested as Pegida anti-migrant marches sweep across Europe (PHOTOS, VIDEOS):
Tens of thousands of people marched across 14 European countries in protest against the influx of Muslim migrants into the continent. In several migrant flashpoints, clashes broke out between demonstrators and police.
In Dresden, Germany, where the movement was born in October 2014, around 8,000 people gathered on the banks of the Elbe, waving the German tricolors and anti-Nazi resistance flags.
“Merkel must go!” chanted the crowd, in protest against the German chancellor, whose policies resulted in over 1 million immigrants arriving in the country in 2015.
On the side of the river, police sanctioned a mass counter-demonstration, attended by left-wing and anti-fascist activists.
In Calais, the French port town, where about 3,700 migrants have set up a camp in hope of crossing to the UK, the proposed demonstration was banned by the authorities, saying the group could “create tensions, division and violence."
Nonetheless, over 150 people turned up for the unsanctioned rally, carrying banners saying:“This is our home!" and “Journalists are collaborationists!” as they sang the Marseillaise.
Police repeatedly instructed demonstrators to disperse, before deploying tear gas. As the crowd broke up, several protesters tangled with police, and about 10 were taken into custody. Among those arrested was General Christian Piquemal, the former commander of the French Foreign Legion, who had planned to address the rally.
In Birmingham, which has the highest Muslim population in the UK outside London, former leader of the far-right English Defence League Tommy Robinson led a throng of supporters on a silent march through the city center. Many carried printed placards opposing “importation of rape culture” and images of Islamic State executioner, and former UK resident Mohamed Emwazi - ‘Jihadi John’ - with the caption “Cultural enrichment.”
The protesters were matched in turnout by counter-demonstrators, one of whom was arrested by the police for disturbing public order.
In Ireland, which staged its first-ever Pegida march, demonstrators were enveloped by counter-protesters in one of Dublin’s central squares, forcing police to insert themselves between the two groups and shut off several streets.
As the much-bigger anti-Pegida crowd pushed on, chanting, “Off our streets, Nazis go!” and waving “Refugees welcome” banners, small groups of Pegida activists were forced to take refuge in shops.
People in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Estonia, whose governments have been more amenable to their electorates’ apprehension towards migrants also staged notable rallies.
In Prague, protesters gathered outside the city castle, the residence of President Milos Zeman, himself a strident critic of Muslim migration. Elsewhere in the city, a group of counter-protesters found itself ambushed by a band of masked men and pelted with bottles as it marched up a side street. No one was arrested or hospitalized, according to Czech media.
Scuffles also broke out in Amsterdam, while in Switzerland and Finland small-scale protests passed without incident.********