VIENNA – Interior and defense ministers from 15 European countries agreed Wednesday to come up with new measures to ensure that the overland route from Greece remains shut for migrants seeking new lives in other EU nations and those trying to bring them in illegally.
Increased controls along the so-called West Balkans route have sharply curtailed the inflow of migrants since the tougher security measures were instituted along the overland path from Greece to the rest of the EU almost a year ago.
But Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said that human smuggling along the so-called West Balkans route continues. New measures, to be drawn up by April, were meant in part to counter such activity, he said.
“We’re sending a signal to the traffickers with this conference that there will be no illegal migration to Europe,” Sobotka told reporters. He spoke of new “border control measures” as part of the plan, but did not elaborate.
Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil said preparations also were needed should the European Union deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants falls apart amid persistent bilateral tensions.
Participants said the plan includes focusing on identifying the most prevalent routes used by human smugglers, a projection of alternative routes should the present ones be shut down, and an estimate of how much additional manpower is needed for extra border security.
Wednesday’s meeting included counterparts from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Greece.
Some of the countries became arrival or transit points for the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants who started flooding Europe in 2015. Others oppose resettling migrants already in the EU on their territories.
Austria was instrumental in coordinating last year’s shutdown of the West Balkans route.