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Balkan States Shut Down Migrant Route To Northern Europe

  • RFE/RL

The so-called Balkan route to Northern Europe traveled by more than a million migrants in the last year appears to have shut down completely-- and possibly permanently -- this week.

Macedonia, whose border with Greece has been the entry point for asylum seekers hoping to live in countries like Germany and Denmark, has not allowed any migrants to pass through since March 7, following suit with the tight restrictions imposed on migrants by countries to the north like Slovenia and Serbia.

The interior minister of Austria, which launched a wave of border closings in the region this year, proclaimed that the closures were permanent and will save Europe from further heartaches and headaches caused by the migrant crisis.

"My position is clear: the Balkan route remains closed and that permanently," Johanna Mikl-Leitner told German newspaper Die Welt on March 10.

Only such a "consistent signal" will deter migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece to start the trek to Northern Europe, she said.

"This alliance of reason has so far provided the decisive contribution to preserve stability and order for the people in Europe," she said.

While Austria and the Balkan states adopted tight restrictions to the consternation of top European Union officials last month, on March 10 EU President Donald Tusk appeared to take credit for the shutdown.

"Irregular flows of migrants along Western Balkans route have come to an end," Tusk said on Twitter.

"Not a question of unilateral actions but common EU28 decision.... I thank Western Balkan countries for implementing part of EU's comprehensive strategy to deal with migration crisis."

WATCH: The Macedonian side of the border zone with Greece remained empty on March 9, after the government in Skopje closed entry to any refugees and migrants. (RFE/RL's Balkan Service)

Macedonia was not the only one not letting migrants into the country. Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia said they would bar entry to transiting migrants starting at midnight.

Slovenia said it would make exceptions only for migrants wishing to claim asylum in the country or for those seeking entry "on humanitarian grounds."

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said his country would not go back to the liberal policies followed last year, when most migrants were waved through by border guards. He declared that "the route for illegal migrations no longer exists."

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who once seemed to welcome migrants with open arms, has thrown her support behind a plan being negotiated with Turkey to essentially turn back half the migrants who make their way to Greece and accept only migrants eligible for asylum under EU rules.

Speaking during a visit to Washington on March 9, Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen said Merkel had underestimated how many people would arrive after "sending out invitations to refugees around the world" last year.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP