Eastern EU nations firm against quotas as Balkans fight over borders

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Eastern European Union countries are sticking to their rejection of accepting fixed quotas of refugees flowing into the bloc, an official said Monday, while Balkan leaders continued squabbling over how to deal with the influx of people from the south.

“I anticipate that our joint position rejecting the application of quotas will be reaffirmed,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told the CTK news agency ahead of a meeting of the Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian and Czech foreign ministers.

The Czech leader said the European Commission had failed to think through the implications of the idea – pushed by Germany in particular – for 120,000 asylum seekers already in the EU to be redistributed across the bloc’s other member states.

Sobotka noted in particular the difficulty of ensuring that the migrants remained in the country to whem they were allocated, while Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna rejected any automatic response to the crisis.

“We are looking for a formula by means of which we can show solidarity but that also reflects our capacities,” he said.

On Tuesday, EU interior ministers will try to strike a deal on the redistribution of the 120,000 asylum seekers within the bloc.

Germany and France would take in the largest share of an overall 66,000 asylum seekers being redistributed from Greece and Italy, according to draft conclusions that were being negotiated on Monday, a copy of which was seen by dpa.

Hungary was also supposed to benefit from the scheme by having 54,000 asylum seekers moved from its territory, but Budapest has declined the offer. Member states may now wait to see where new emergencies develop before deciding where this number of people should be taken from, according to EU diplomats.

The draft conclusions allocate asylum seekers to all member states apart from Britain, Denmark and Ireland, who can choose whether to participate under exceptions they have negotiated.

The document does not say, however, whether the figures are voluntary or mandatory. It could also still undergo significant changes ahead of Tuesday’s talks.

EU leaders are also due to hold crisis talks on Wednesday, to look at broader migration concerns, including ways to manage the bloc’s external borders.

Schetyna called Tuesday for the EU’s southern borders to be secured, with a view to future waves of migrants.

In Hungary, which took a hard line and is building a barricade along its border with EU-neighbour Croatia after sealing its border with Serbia to migrants, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that fences “are the solution.”

“Many say that fences are not a good solution, because then all would have to build one,” he told the national parliament. “But exactly that is the solution.”

The Hungarian parliament on Monday also passed a law allowing the army to patrol the border alongside police. The law allows military border patrols to stop and search people and vehicles, as well as use batons, rubber bullets and capturing nets. Permission to shoot firearms was not foreseen.

Orban and his conservative Fidesz party have the support of voters for their hard stance in relation to migrants – the latest survey by the Ipsos agency indicated that their popularity rose from 38 to 41 per cent since June.

In Croatia, where more than 30,000 migrants, mostly refugees from the Middle East, arrived since Hungary closed its border a week ago, Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic repeated calls for Europe to plug the border between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean.

“That must be stopped at the source, in the area between Turkey and Greece,” he said after visiting a reception centre at Opatovac.

He said that only six of the refugees who arrived had asked for asylum in Croatia, while the rest will be allowed to continue toward Western Europe.

Croatia’s decision to transport the migrants to borders with Hungary in the north and Slovenia in the west angered its neighbours, both members of the 26 nations that comprise Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

But Croatia and Hungary also angered Serbia (the last non-EU country on the so-called Balkan migration route from Turkey, across the Aegean to Greece) and Macedonia.

In addition to Hungary’s building a razor wire-laced fence on the border, both Zagreb and Budapest have closed border crossings to curb the inflow of migrants, spurring Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacici to threaten “counter-measures.”

Serbia, an EU membership candidate, has been concerned that closing of the EU frontiers in Croatia and Hungary may cause a backlog of migrants pushing from the south by the thousands each day.

“Serbia can’t allow itself to be turned into a concentration camp, surrounded by wire,” Dacic said, adding that the EU’s reaction to the crisis has been “as if this is happening on another planet.”

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