Step up cooperation for human-rights based solutions along the Western Balkan migratory route

On 25 October, at the invitation of the President of the European Commission, the Heads of State and Government of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia met in Brussels to discuss immediate operational actions to tackle the emergency situation along the Western Balkan migratory route.

As reported by newspapers, it was a tense meeting (See article in the guardian) which made clear the difficulty to step up cooperation and develop a collective cross-border approach. The situation along the Western Balkan route is on the edge. After Hungary built a fence at the border with Serbia, the refugees flow switched to Croatia which in turn imposed border controls, pushing them into Slovenia, where more than 60.000 refugees arrived in the past few days.

At the meeting, President Juncker proposed a 17-point plan aiming at stepping up cooperation, reducing secondary movements of refugees from one country to another, and intensifying border control. Among the decisions agreed by the leaders, Greece announced the intention to increase reception capacity to 30.000 places by the end of the year and leaders attending the summit committed to supporting Greece and UNHCR to provide rent subsidies and host family programmes for at least 20.000 more. Slovenia will receive within a week 400 additional police officers to support border management. Furthermore, leaders agreed on working closely with Turkey to implement the EU-Turkey Action Plan, although the fact that the Turkish leader was not invited at the meeting represents a missed opportunity for stepping up this cooperation.

SOLIDAR is concerned that not all the leaders of the countries along the Western Balkan route are committed to cooperate in solidarity with the first objective of respecting fundamental rights of refugees and migrants. SOLIDAR members and partners have been involved in many civil society-led initiatives in these countries to show solidarity with refugees and migrants and to call on their governments to implement more inclusive policies and provide more support for reception and socio-economic integration. However, in most cases the tendency of leaders has been on closing and securing external borders. Jointly, SOLIDAR members and partners have been calling for an alternative approach to migration policies based on:

  • Opening safe and legal channels for people seeking international protection and better opportunities;
  • Strengthening the human rights dimension of the EU Enlargement policies by using the EU accession strategy as a tool to enhance human rights protection in candidate countries - including the rights of refugees and migrants - instead of a way to stop migration flows;
  • Reversing the logic of austerity towards investments in adequate provision of quality healthcare, social services, and education which are the essential for social inclusion and integration of refugees and migrants. Besides, it is essential to develop instruments that facilitate the recognition of competences and qualifications of migrants to allow.

On 10th November, SOLIDAR is organising a round table to discuss with policy makers and representatives of civil society how to ensure respect of fundamental rights and spur socio-economic integration of refugees and migrants. SOLIDAR members and partners providing humanitarian assistance and promote integration of refugees and migrants in the EU Member States and along the Western Balkan route will present their activities and provide recommendations to policy makers.

A collection of 10 case studies of projects and initiatives led by SOLIDAR members to promote equal access of refugees and migrants to economic, social and cultural rights will be launched at the event. Among those, a project run by IDC in Serbia to strengthen the socio – economic capacities of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), facilitate their access to justice and support labour-market participation for long-term unemployed refugees.

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