EU Stumps up Aid for Refugees in Balkans

26 Aug 15
EU Stumps up Aid for Refugees in Balkans

Ahead of the Western Balkan summit in Vienna, which will be overshadowed by the refugee crisis, the European Commision has offered another 1.5 million euro in humanitarian aid.

Dusica Tomovic, Elvira M. Jukic
Podgorica, Sarajevo

Migrants in Macedonia | Photo by Ognen Teofilovski.

Ahead of the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna, the European Commission on Wednesday said it was releasing an additional 1.5 million euro in humanitarian funding to assist refugees and migrants in Serbia and Macedonia.

The aid will support humanitarian partners in helping with provision of basic emergency services, such as water, hygiene, health care, shelter, protection for refugees and migrants, improvement of reception centres and coordination and reporting on migration issues in the region.

“The Western Balkans are dealing with an unprecedented number of transiting refugees and migrants. The EU is stepping up its humanitarian aid to provide them with urgently needed relief. This is European solidarity at its core,” Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said.

The European Commission previously granted about 90,000 euro in humanitarian assistance to Macedonia in July and 150,000 euro to Serbia on August 20, in response to the emergency.

Germany will allocate another million euro in short-term humanitarian aid “in order to calm the dramatic situation” of refugees crossing the Western Balkans, the German Embassy in Macedonia said on Wednesday.

According to EU border agency, Frontex, some 102,000 migrants entered the EU via the “Western Balkan route” between January and July this year, versus just 8,000 for the same period in 2014.

The Balkan region has become one of the main routes into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of migrants, in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Although originally planned as a high-level conference on the economic prospects and European perspectives of the Western Balkan states, the refugee crisis will dominate the summit that opens in Vienna on Thursday.

The summit is part of the Berlin Process, a five-year process started last August and marked by yearly summits in order to underline the EU’s commitment to enlargement.

The main topics of the summit in Vienna will be “infrastructure and connectivity”, regional cooperation, youth and migration.

The Commission said on Wednesday that the summit will build on progress made since the Berlin Summit last August and seek to further develop co-operation between the six Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, in dealing with common challenges, notably migration.

Montenegrin and Bosnian officials signed border agreeminet | Photo by the Bosnian goverment.

The Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, and his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said in a joint statement that 20 years since war ended in the Western Balkans the region was peaceful and all its countries aim to become a part of the EU.

The two chiefs of diplomacy said that the conference would see political leaders from the West Balkans agreeing on a regional transport network in order to be better connected and promote economic growth. There will also be cooperation in education.

The two also recalled that Serbia and Kosovo had made progress in their talks but added that another challenge now was the crisis over migrants.

“The countries of the Western Balkans will have to take responsibility in facing these challenges,” Kurz and Steinmeier said adding that the conference will look into how the EU can help them.

Ahead of the summit, meanwhile, Bosnian Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak and the Montenegrin Interior Minister Rasko Konjevic on Wednesday signed a border agreement between the two countries.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer urged the parliaments of Bosnia and Montenegro to ratify the agreement as soon as possible and so send a message to the Balkans that “peaceful negotiations can reach a solution”.

It is expected that Montenegro will also sign a border agreement with Kosovo during the Vienna Summit.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)