Thousands of refugees kept streaming into Slovenia on Thursday, straining the small country’s resources and its patience with other EU nations that have been passing on migrants who want to reach Western Europe.
Slovenia has become the latest country to come under pressure from Europe’s migration crisis. More than 680,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on the continent by sea this year, the biggest population movement it has experienced since World War II.
Slovenia has said it is only able to process about 2,500 migrants a day before they can continue on to Austria.
But the country saw 12,600 migrants arrive over the past 24 hours and as many as 43,000 people in the last five days, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar said on Thursday afternoon after talks in Ljubljana with EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
The congestion has led to bottlenecks at both the Croatian and Austrian borders, with migrants and refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan left out in the mud, rain and cold.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday that Slovenia is facing “almost existential” problems.
The country is spending 770,000 euros (860,500 dollars) a day to handle the streams of arriving refugees, Gyorkos Znidar said.
This covers everything from tents, beds, sanitary equipment, heating, water, food and health care for the refugees to equipment for police and vehicles to transport migrants to reception centers, she said.
Avramopoulos said the EU is ready to grant Slovenia “additional emergency funding” if Ljubljana requests it. This would be on top of 56 million euros already earmarked for the EU and Schengen member state through 2020 for migration and security challenges.
Slovenia had been expected to ask the EU for cash, material and expertise assistance, and a plan to resettle refugees.
Gyorkos Znidar said she had discussed Slovenia’s “needs” with the commissioner, but did not indicate that she would apply for more EU funds. She said her country will accept support offered by Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Slovakia.
Avramopoulos said the EU also stands ready to deploy migration management support teams to Slovenia.
“You register, you fingerprint and you identify all these desperate people who have reached your borders, and you do it in a very responsible way,” he told Gyorkos Znidar. “But the combined efforts of the EU agencies and of the national authorities of Slovenia can help to bring order in the situation very rapidly.”
The minister, however, spoke out against setting up a so-called hotspot in Slovenia – the term used by the EU to describe places with migratory pressures where it deploys support teams.
The minister instead called for Greece and Croatia to do a better job in controlling their borders, since they have external EU frontiers while Slovenia does not.
Several member states have complained about overwhelmed Greece letting refugees move through unchecked, while Gyorkos Znidar also accused Croatia of “refusing any cooperation.”
She said her country will demand more action on Greece when it meets with the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia in Brussels on Sunday for crisis talks on the problems of the western Balkan migratory route.
Slovenia, with 2 million inhabitants, is the smallest country on that route.
“The message of Slovenia will be very clear: The external border of the EU in Greece has to be protected,” she said. “Greece is the country of the EU through which the migrants are arriving in greater numbers and completely uncontrolled.”
Hungary has also been blamed for blocking its borders, diverting the migration flows to its Balkan neighbours.
Avramopoulos called for a joint European response to the migration crisis.
“This means that everyone needs to play by the rules, everyone. All have to cooperate and show solidarity with each other, and with each other’s neighbours, both EU and non-EU,” he said.
“No country can do this alone,” he added. “It is time for all to take responsibility and to start delivering and cooperating.”
Also on Thursday, Sweden said it expects 190,000 asylum seekers to arrive this year, up from its previous estimate of 150,000. As a percentage of its population, Sweden already takes in the highest number of refugees among European countries.
“The situation is without precedent,” said Anders Danielsson, head of Sweden’s migration authority.