Balkan leaders huddle on migrants ahead of EU meet

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LONG WALK FROM HOME  Migrants and refugees are escorted by intervention group policemen on their way to the Croatian-Slovenian border after disembarking from a train on Friday (Saturday in Manila) in Kljuc Brdovecki, Croatia. Crowds of refugees and other migrants camp by roads in western Balkan countries in worsening autumn weather after Hungary sealed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, causing a chain reaction in other overwhelmed states. AFP PHOTO

LONG WALK FROM HOME
Migrants and refugees are escorted by intervention group policemen on their way to the Croatian-Slovenian border after disembarking from a train on Friday (Saturday in Manila) in Kljuc Brdovecki, Croatia. Crowds of refugees and other migrants camp by roads in western Balkan countries in worsening autumn weather after Hungary sealed its borders with Serbia and Croatia, causing a chain reaction in other overwhelmed states. AFP PHOTO

SOFIA: The prime ministers of Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania were to hold talks Saturday (Sunday in Manila) on how to tackle record numbers of migrants at the onset of winter, ahead of a mini-EU summit to discuss a coordinated response.

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Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania are among the countries on the migrants’ route from Turkey up through the Balkans to northern Europe.

Saturday’s talks in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia come a day ahead of a meeting of leaders in Brussels called by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who has been urging a cross-border approach to the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II.

Hostility towards migrants streaming into Europe is mounting, with Germany on Thursday foiling an extremist plot to torch migrant shelters and Swedish police saying a sword attack on a school with many immigrant pupils was motivated by racism.

Most of the migrants—a flow of more than 670,000 coming into Europe this year, mainly fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—want to get to Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse.

Juncker on Friday said he backed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy towards migrants, even though the welcoming stance has has threatened to cause a backlash, with the country bracing for up to a million asylum requests this year.

Juncker heaped praise on her on Friday, saying “I appreciate very much that the chancellor does not change course because of opinion polls”.

“It is not a question of short-term popularity but the very substance of what politics is about,” Juncker, who is hosting Sunday’s talks, was quoted as telling the Funke-Mediengruppe press group.

But in a sign of possible friction ahead, the small Alpine country of Slovenia—a new hotspot in the crisis—warned it may build Europe’s latest border fence to stem the tide of migrants unless it gets more help from the summit.

In a sign of the growing stress on Germany, police in the southern town of Bamberg arrested 13 members of a far-right movement suspected of planning arson attacks on two homes for asylum seekers, prosecutors said Thursday.

Sweden is the EU’s other top destination for asylum seekers, and police said an attack by a sword-wielding man, who killed two people at a school in the southwestern town of Trollhattan, was “racially motivated”.

Sunday’s summit in Brussels will bring the leaders of non-EU members Macedonia and Serbia together with the leaders of eight EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia.

“The past weeks have shown that there is no national solution to the problem,” Juncker’s spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.

“Only a European collective cross-border approach based on cooperation can succeed.”

According to German media, Juncker has drafted 16 proposals for Sunday’s talks.

They include an undertaking that no country will let migrants through to an adjoining state without first getting the neighbor’s agreement to do so.

He is reportedly also floating proposals to speed up expulsion of migrants who have been denied asylum and to withdraw the right of asylum to people who do not register their request in the first EU state where they landed.

AFP

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