Slovenia says losing patience, inches closer to building border fence

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Slovenia is running out of patience with the European Union and is moving closer to building border fences, Prime Minister Miro Cerar said in an interview released Saturday.

“If the situation does not change significantly in the coming days, we will probably increase control with technical barriers,” Cerar told the daily Vecer.

The country of 2 million is the smallest on the Balkan migration route. While only a transit nation, Slovenia has been overwhelmed with the steady influx of some 7,000 people on average a day.

“As many as 100,000 refugees could come in the next 10 days, which is unmanageable for us,” Cerar warned. “At this point our primary responsibility is to our citizens.”

The right thing to do would be for Slovenia to protect the European Union’s border-free Schengen zone “with technical obstacles, including a fence, if necessary,” the premier said.

Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkoes-Znidar hinted that Slovenia may have already bought the fence for the border.

“If a political decision is taken, technical means are ready,” she told reporters at a refugee centre. The fence would serve to prevent uncontrolled border crossings and “if Austria and Germany start limiting the number of migrants they accept.”

Recent media reports claimed that Slovenia had acquired material to fence off 125 kilometres of the border with Croatia, estimating the cost at 1.5 million euros (1.6 million dollars).

Cerar and other Slovenian officials have been growing increasingly wary that Germany may end its open-doors policy and clamp down on the entry of migrants and refugees, creating a massive backlog in the transit countries.

The migrants on the Balkan route, many of them refugees from war zones in the Middle East, enter Europe by crossing the Aegean from Turkey.

They leave the EU and Schengen as they make their way through Macedonia and Serbia, before returning to the EU in Croatia and to the Schengen zone in Slovenia.

Cerar said that an escalation would require “defence of the border … with wire, police or even the army.”

“This is no longer hypothetical. We know that millions of people are waiting on the EU’s external border, which could pose a serious problem,” he said.

Slovenia became a part of the Balkan route when Hungary sealed its its border with Croatia on October 17.

More than 157,000 refugee arrivals were registered since, with 5,600 on Friday alone, the STA news agency reported quoting police.

In an effort to help Slovenia, a unit of 20 Slovakian police was due to begin working at the Gruskovje reception camp, near the border with Croatia on the Zagreb-Maribor highway.

Six Austrian officers were already deployed and another 100 from various EU countries were due to arrive to provide further assistance.

The pace of arrivals is expected to go up, officials from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, working along the Balkan route estimated Saturday, as Greek ferry operators ended their strike.

Authorities in Athens estimated that about 25,000 refugees were stranded on the Greek Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros during the four-day strike.

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