LJUBLJANA – Slovenia announced Tuesday that it will refuse to allow the transit of migrants across its territory from midnight (2300 GMT), apart from “humanitarian” exceptions, in a bid to shut off the Balkan migrant route once and for all.
Serbia said it would “align all measures” with the fellow Balkan country, saying it “cannot accept becoming a reception center for refugees.
Both nations, along with Austria, Croatia and Macedonia, have dramatically restricted entry to migrants in recent weeks, leaving a bottleneck of some 36,000 stuck at the Greek-Macedonian border, unable to continue their journey to Northern Europe.
Access to Slovenia will now only be granted to “foreigners meeting the requirements to enter the country,” those wishing to claim asylum, and migrants selected “on a case by case basis on humanitarian grounds and in accordance with the rules of the Schengen zone,” a statement from the interior ministry said.
The tiny EU nation said that restoring order to the Schengen zone would mean that “migration can no longer be possible along the Balkan route as it has been until now.
Serbia said the Slovenian move “practically closes the Balkans route” used by hundreds of thousands of refugees and other migrants over the last year, and indicated that it was following suit.
“Taking into account the new regime implemented by a European Union member, Serbia, so it will align all measures with the European Union and implement them reciprocally at its southern and eastern borders, with Macedonia and Bulgaria, respectively,” it said.
The decisions to further restrict routes taken by more than a million migrants in the last year were announced hours after EU leaders declared an end to a mass scramble to reach wealthy countries in Europe from war zones.
“From midnight, there will be no more migration on the western Balkan route as it took place so far,” the Interior Ministry of EU member Slovenia said in a statement.
It said EU leaders agreed in Brussels on Monday that member states must enforce the rules of the open-border Schengen area. This means Slovenia would bar passage to migrants except those who planned to request asylum in the country or who sought entry for humanitarian reasons, which would be individually assessed.
Only about 460 of the almost 478,000 migrants who have passed through Slovenia since last October asked for asylum in the country, with most heading to wealthier northern nations such as Germany.
Non-EU member Serbia said Slovenia’s decision meant “a closure of the Balkan route” for migrants and said it would follow suit. “Serbia cannot allow itself to become a collective center for refugees, so it will harmonize all its measures with those of the EU member states,” its Interior Ministry said in a statement.
At least 34,000 people have been trapped in various parts of Greece from a cascade of border shutdowns farther north. That has slowed the numbers reaching Slovenia to a trickle. The last migrants arrived in Slovenia three days ago, according to police there.
Nevertheless, the United Nations refugee agency says there are around 1,500 migrants in Macedonia and about 1,000 in Serbia. These people could be stranded by the new border restrictions.