Talk about a slow-motion car crash: As countries up and down the Balkan migrant route, from Austria to Macedonia, start to tighten controls on how many people they admit, ugly scenes are starting to crop up. In Greece:
About 5,000 people massed at two locations in northern Greece, close to the border with Macedonia, while aid groups urged another 4,000, who arrived on the Greek mainland from outlying islands, not to head to north for fear of creating a bottleneck.
“Our biggest fear is that the 4,000 migrants who are in Athens head up here and the place will become overcrowded,” said Antonis Rigas, a coordinator of the medical relief charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
Meanwhile some are trying their luck breaking into Hungary:
Police detained 501 migrants over the weekend who cut their way through Hungary’s steel border fence, the highest number since Hungary sealed off its southern borders in mid-October [. . .]
The fence diverted the flow of migrants away from Hungary toward Croatia and Slovenia last year when hundreds of thousands crossed the Balkans en route to Austria and western Europe.
However, as the weather improved in recent weeks, the number of migrants increased, and more began to cut through the fence despite a heavy police presence.
Austria has capped its daily intake of migrants at 3,200, and will allow 80 to claim asylum each day. It has threatened to whittle those numbers down even further in the coming weeks if it deems it necessary to do so. Croatia’s interior minister warned that his country would completely shut down the corridor the very moment Austria and Germany close their doors.
If the Balkan route ceased to be an option, migrants would likely once again take to the seas in attempts to reach Italy. Austria has warned that if this eventuality comes to pass, it would consider closing one of its major border crossings with Italy. Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi said the move would be “absolutely wrong” and would strike at the “heart of the very idea of European integration.”
Countries along the Balkan corridor are set to meet in Vienna on Wednesday, ahead of yet one more Europe-wide ministers’ summit aimed at addressing the issue. Optimism going into the summit is not exactly the dominant mood.