European leaders lashed out Sunday at each other’s handling of the continent’s greatest immigration crisis since World War II, even as they came together to seek ways to ease the plight of the tens of thousands marching across the Balkans toward the European Union’s heartland.
At a hastily called emergency summit in Brussels, 11 EU and Balkan leaders especially were looking to shore up Greece’s porous border with Turkey and slow the flow of people heading north toward the European Union’s heartland.
“Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Nearly 250,000 migrants have passed through the Balkans since mid-September and the surge is not being deterred by either cold weather or colder waters off Greece. Croatia said 11,500 people crossed into the country Saturday, the highest in a single day since Hungary put up a fence and refugees started coming into Croatia in mid-September.
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said his tiny Alpine nation was being overwhelmed by the refugees – with 60,000 arriving in the last 10 days – and was not receiving enough help from its EU partners.
He put the challenge in simple terms: if no fresh approach is forthcoming “in the next few days and weeks, I do believe that the European Union and Europe as a whole will start to fall apart.”
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic asked a fundamental question that the 28-nation bloc and non-EU nations like Serbia have been unable to answer since the migratory trek across the Mediterranean and through Turkey started last spring: “What we are going to do with hundreds of thousands of these people?”
Half a year later, there is no answer. Sunday’s meeting was hoping to come up with some Band-Aid solutions at best. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras commented that having a summit on the migrant crisis was of little use if Turkey was not invited.
Many say the EU needs to get control of the refugee flow at the bloc’s external border between EU-member Greece and Turkey. Migration experts, however, say the flood of refugees won’t be halted until the world resolves the war in Syria, which is driving millions out of the country.
Vucic said he was prepared for “hard, not very pleasant” talks. He said Serbia would not “put up any walls” like Hungary’s new razor wire-topped border fences.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic asked of fellow EU nation Greece: “Why doesn’t Greece control its maritime half with Turkey?”