Progress following Western Balkans Route Leaders’ Meeting

A video conference was held Friday between the contact points nominated after the Western Balkans Route Leaders’ Meeting held on 25 October. The objective was to follow up on the agreement reached at the meeting and set out in the Leaders’ Statement. Senior officials from the countries and agencies present at the meeting had a detailed discussion on recent trends concerning external borders and reception capacity.

A broad discussion on the different border management points allowed for an exchange of information between the countries and organisations on the call, including the following key points: Austria, Slovenia and Croatia informed about the outcome of a meeting held between the police authorities of the three countries aimed at intensifying cooperation and coordination of border management. Participants discussed the possibility of holding a video conference of national police authorities from all participating countries.
Frontex informed the group on progress following the launch on 28 December 2015 of the “Poseidon Rapid Intervention” operation in Greece. 325 officers and 11 vessels have been deployed to the Greek islands. 180 of the officers currently deployed are supporting registration and identification. Frontex also informed about progress made as regards the agreement of an operational plan for management of the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The UNHCR provided an update on progress towards the delivery of the 20,000 reception places which will be provided in private accommodation via a voucher scheme with partners in Greece. This is part of the total of 50,000 additional reception places which Greece agreed to provide at the Leaders Meeting. UNHCR is making good progress towards the target with 1,000 places having already been established and expects the remaining places to become available in the near future.

Participants discussed the need to step up efforts to ensure the registration of arrivals and availability of registration data in the Eurodac database. Greece informed about the registration process in the hotspots on the Greek islands. 65 Eurodac machines are currently deployed in the Greek islands.

Participants stressed the need to improve and accelerate return and readmission procedures for those persons who have completed the asylum application process and are deemed not to be in need of international protection.

Greece informed about preparations for the introduction of an identification document for refugees aimed at preventing the use of forged documents.

Europol gave an update on the stepping up of its cooperation with the countries along the Western Balkans route in the fight against smuggling and trafficking.

The group will reconvene on 14 January for the next weekly video conference, and will continue their bilateral contacts in the meantime to ensure full communication, coordination and cooperation to address the migration flows and to ensure humane treatment of those seeking asylum in Europe.