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European Ministers Agree To Fortify Blockade Of Migrants' Balkans Route

Migrants pass security forces on their way to Macedonia and the Balkans route to the European Union

Ministers from 15 European countries have agreed to come up with new measures to ensure that the so-called Western Balkans route to the European Union remains shut for migrants.

Austrian officials said on February 8 that the 15 countries will draw up plans by April to close remaining gaps on their mostly closed borders to seal the blockade of the route, which attracted millions of migrants in 2015 but has been largely shut since early 2016.

Agreeing to new measures were interior and defense ministers from Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Greece.

The Balkan countries became transit points for migrants who flooded into Europe in 2015 and early 2016, and thousands remain stuck in Serbia and elsewhere, unable to reach the EU.

Austria, which hosted the latest strategy session in Vienna, was instrumental in coordinating last year's shutdown of the route.

Also on February 8, Albanian prosecutors announced that they have arrested 18 people since September for illegally smuggling refugees through Greece, Kosovo, and Serbia to Austria and Germany.

Each migrant paid 900 to 1,250 euros for the illegal transport, prosecutors said.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP