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 Balkan migration route has become a growing concern for EU countries in recent months, with authorities recording an increase in the number of people entering EU territory from the region after traveling from places like the India, Tunisia and Burundi.
“Now is the time to present an appropriate action plan also on the Western Balkan route,” Johansson said in an interview, noting that “Austria is very affected.”
The new plan is being drawn up, Johansson told EU interior ministers on Friday at an emergency meeting, called to address growing tensions over migration. While the main sticking point 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, will be presented “soon”, without giving details.
The Balkan migration route has gained popularity in recent times.
According to data from Frontex, the EU border agency, 281,000 undocumented 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 Balkan route remains “the most active entry point” to 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 beginning of the year, including 75,000 unregistered in the other countries crossed. Forty percent of these unregistered migrants arrived “via Serbia”, according to an Austrian diplomat. A further 40%, the diplomat added, passed through EU countries Bulgaria and Romania.
Austria used these details to claim that the Schengen visa-free travel zone, which encompasses most EU countries and several neighboring countries, is essentially broken. He pledged to block Bulgaria and Romania’s planned accession to Schengen.
“The whole Schengen system is not working,” the diplomat said.
Austrians, Johansson said, “are right – it’s really important that all member states register people, otherwise we can’t manage migration.”
She pointed out that there was 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 press the point during Friday’s meeting.
If EU countries can’t register arrivals, she says, “they put too much pressure on countries like Austria, and that’s not fair. We cannot accept it.