LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Slovenia and Serbia said on Tuesday they would place new restrictions on the entry of migrants, putting extra obstacles in the way of those trying to reach the European Union via the Balkans.
The decisions to further restrict routes taken by more than a million migrants in the last year were announced hours after EU leaders declared an end to a mass scramble to reach wealthy countries in Europe from war zones.
“From midnight, there will be no more migration on the Western Balkan route as it took place so far,” the Interior Ministry of EU member Slovenia said in a statement.
It said EU leaders agreed in Brussels on Monday that member states must enforce the rules of the open-border Schengen area. This means Slovenia would bar passage to migrants except those who planned to request asylum in the country or who sought entry for humanitarian reasons, which would be individually assessed.
Only about 460 of the almost 478,000 migrants who have passed through Slovenia since last October asked for asylum in the country, with most heading to wealthier northern nations such as Germany.
Non-EU member Serbia said Slovenia’s decision meant “a closure of the Balkan route” for migrants and said it would follow suit. “Serbia cannot allow itself to become a collective centre for refugees, so it will harmonise all its measures with those of the EU member states,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Croatia’s Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic confirmed late on Tuesday that the former Yugoslav republic, which is an EU member but not part of the Schengen area, will also from midnight apply new rules meaning that only those travelling with valid documents and visas will be able to enter.
At least 34,000 people have been trapped in various parts of Greece from a cascade of border shutdowns further north. That has slowed the numbers reaching Slovenia to a trickle. The last migrants arrived in Slovenia three days ago, according to police there.
Nevertheless, the United Nations refugee agency says there are around 1,500 migrants in Macedonia and about 1,000 in Serbia. These people could be stranded by the new border restrictions.
Reporting by Marja Novak and Ivana Sekularac; additional reporting by Igor Ilic in Zagreb, writing by Adrian Croft; editing by Grant McCool