The Balkans - the Alternative Solution to the Refugee Crisis
Arrival of asylum seekers at a train station in Europe

Thousands of migrants are gathering daily at the coastal border between Greece and Turkey, trying to make the trip to Europe following the Balkan Corridor to Hungary. The refugees are fleeing war and repression in their home countries, and the majority of them are coming from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, and other war-torn failed states in Africa and the Middle East.

Their destination is usually Germany or Sweden; the two countries have received the bulk of refugees. Statistics show that Germany will become the promise land hosting more than 800,000 migrants within a year.

This inflow is to become a major challenge for the EU, which will have to find a solution for the unprecedented number of migrants trying to reach Europe. All this comes at a point where European solidarity is at its lowest point ever, as was shown during the negotiations for the Greek crisis. During the September 22 emergency summit of EU foreign ministers, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voted against accepting the mandatory state quotas. The decision to accept the quotas for relocating 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy through qualified majority instead of unanimous voting stretched the EU consensus and intensified the rift between Eastern and Western Europe.

In the search of solution, the EU needs to come up with a common policy for migrants that will show its strong will and at the same time will not displease key member countries and strain once more its unity. Providing more humanitarian assistance to Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon that currently host the bulk of Syrian refugees would ameliorate the problem of the uncontrolled influx towards Europe, though it wouldn’t solve it.

The solution could come through the Western Balkans, which are part of the route that refugees use in their way to Western Europe. With Hungary’s border closed with a razor wire fence to shut down the influx of migrants, most of them will be stuck in transit countries such as Serbia and Macedonia. The situation seems similar in Croatia, which has already received more than 45,000 refugees, more than it has the capacity to host, and is sending them back to Hungary and Serbia.

Serbia and Macedonia cannot be allowed to become the dumping place for all the asylum seekers. Both countries have managed exceptionally well with the stream of tens of thousands refugees reaching their borders every week. Instead, there need to be a coordinated intervention, especially now with the winter approaching, which will probably lower the steam of refugees. The coordinated intervention should focus on distributing and registering the migrants equally among the Balkan states and stepping up the assistance in order to enable to absorb the wave of refugees.

Macedonia and Serbia have been already the two countries in the region that have absorbed the main bulk of refugees due to their geographical position. Albania has reconfirmed its commitment to comply with international norms and cooperate with its partners. International media outlets and sources within the Albanian government have already confirmed that the country may be receiving up to 75,000 refugees. Kosovo’s president Mrs. Atifete Jahjaga made a similar humanitarian gesture by stating that they are host 3,000 refugees at this point.

Establishing hosting centers in the Balkans could help Europe manage the flux of refugees. The centres for hosting and registering them in the Balkans should provide asylum seekers with professional training and language lessons funded through EU funds. Also, through those centres migrants should be allowed to file for a refugee status in their countries of choice. This could put an end to the drama of refugees walking their way to Austria and Germany. It would also make their integration into the workforce of the countries where their refugee status will be accepted faster and easier. Economic-wise it will cost less for the EU, which could redirect some of the remaining funds for countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.