Leaders from the Balkan states will attend a summit Thursday in Vienna on European integration – but the immigration crisis is expected to be high on the agenda. In the past few days a surge of tens of thousands of migrants has passed from Greece into the Balkans towards Western Europe. Countries on the front line of the crisis are demanding help from European partners.
Along disused railroad tracks between Serbia and Hungary, the human traffic of Europe’s refugee crisis slowly advances, step by step. Men and women of all ages, the sick, newborn babies, the elderly, some on crutches and bearing the scars of conflicts back home in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The vast majority wants to reach Western Europe. But the surge is overwhelming the countries along its path.
Authorities in Macedonia have switched tactics - adding extra trains and buses to speed the migrants’ passage north to Serbia.
While visiting migrants in Macedonia this week, Sebastian Kurz - foreign minister of summit host Austria - said the European asylum system was broken. He said that we urgently need an overall European approach, and the refugees arriving from Greece should not be routed to Macedonia.
Hungary says a daily record of 2,100 migrants entered from Serbia Monday. The country is racing to finish a fence along the frontier - due to be completed by the end of August. The fence will worsen the situation, says Amnesty International’s Gauri van Gulik.
“If they are then blocked in Hungary, it’s impossible to see where they can go next. At the moment Serbia is not able to process many asylum seekers. And we know that they can’t go to Macedonia," she said. "I mean Macedonia, it’s even worse – a dysfunctional asylum system, some abuses against migrants. So where are these people going to go?”
Many of the migrants are trying to reach Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will attend the Vienna meeting, called on European states to implement joint asylum agreements. She said that should involve registering the migrants, minimum standards of accommodation, and minimum standards of health care.
Berlin announced it will no longer force Syrian refugees to return to the country where they first entered the EU – normally Greece or Italy – to apply for asylum.
But the influx has prompted attacks by anti-immigrant groups. A shelter on the outskirts of Berlin that was due to house hundreds of refugees was destroyed in a suspected arson attack Monday.