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EU prepares plan to crack down on influx of migrants from Balkans – POLITICO

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The EU is working on a proposal to reduce the growing influx of migrants entering the bloc via the Western Balkans, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told POLITICO on Thursday.

The Western Balkans migration route has become a growing concern for EU countries in recent months, with authorities recording an increase in the number of people crossing into EU territory from this region after traveling from countries like India, Tunisia and Burundi.

“Now is the time to present a proper action plan also on the Western Balkan route,” Johansson said in an interview, emphasizing that “Austria is very affected.”

The new plan is currently being drawn up, Johansson told EU interior ministers on Friday at an emergency meeting, called to resolve growing tensions over migration. While the main point of friction has been between France and Italy over where NGO boats should dock after rescuing migrants, ministers will discuss all current active migration routes to the EU.

The plan for the Western Balkans, she said, would be presented “soon”, without giving details.

The Balkan migration route has recently gained popularity.

According to data According to Frontex, the European border agency, 281,000 illegal crossings took place from the Balkans in the first 10 months of 2022, an increase of 77% compared to the same period in 2021 and the highest total since 2016. Frontex said the Western Balkans route remains “the most active entry point into the EU, with more than 22,300 entries in October, almost three times more than last year.

Austria claims to have borne the brunt of this influx. According to the Austrian authorities, around 100,000 migrants have arrived in the country since the start of the year, including 75,000 without being registered in the other countries crossed. Forty percent of these unregistered migrants arrived “via Serbia,” according to an Austrian diplomat. Another 40 percent, the diplomat added, arrived via EU countries Bulgaria and Romania.

Austria used the details to argue that the Schengen visa-free travel zone, which encompasses most EU countries and several neighboring countries, is essentially broken. He has promised to block the planned accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen.

“The whole Schengen system is not working,” the diplomat said.

The Austrians, Johansson said, “are right: it is really important that all member states register people, otherwise we will not be able to manage migration.”

She stressed that there is also the possibility of sending people back to the Western Balkans, “because we have agreements with these countries.” But first, “we have to register them,” she added, promising to emphasize the point at Friday’s meeting.

If EU countries can’t register arrivals, she said, “they’re putting too much pressure on countries like Austria, and that’s not fair.” We cannot accept it.

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