Croatian Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner and Foreign Minister Miro Kovac said in the southern coastal city of Split on Saturday that members of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative should strengthen their cooperation in dealing with the migrant crisis and prevent the opening of new routes through Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere, have been stuck in Greece after the closure of the Greek-Macedonian border and the Balkan migration route, and may seek an alternative route in their efforts to reach Western Europe. More than a million refugees and migrants reached Western Europe last year, using the Balkan route.
"In fighting illegal migrations, we must think of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to prevent the creation of new migrant routes," Reiner said at a conference of parliament speakers from eight countries that make up the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative.
Reiner said that the migrant crisis had become chaotic and uncontrolled because Europe had failed to recognise it in time. "Europe has closed its eyes to the migrant crisis for too long, without taking action, so the countries that were first hit by the refugee tide, namely Greece and Italy, were left to their own devices."
Reiner said that a comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue was necessary because people would continue arriving in Europe from areas affected by war and poverty. "What happened last year can be regarded as a major refugee, asylum and moral crisis. Fewer migrants are coming to Europe this year, but it probably won't stay that way," he said.
Kovac said that the migrant crisis showed that the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative countries could not overcome such a problem without relying on each other. "Migrant flows are changing by the hour, which shows that in dealing with this issue we need to be flexible and adjust our actions to the situation at hand," he said.
Kovac said that the migrant crisis was not just a humanitarian issue but also a security problem, adding that it was necessary to strengthen the protection of the European Union's borders in support of the Schengen system.
He said that Croatia supported the agreement of the EU member states on refugee distribution quotas. "Croatia is ready to honour its obligation to take in 486 refugees from Turkey, provided that the agreement is honoured by everyone, because we can see that some countries are not ready to accept refugees within the agreed quotas, so it is not certain whether the agreement will be honoured," Kovac said.
Kovac said that it would not be possible to resolve the crisis in the long run unless its root causes were removed. "In dealing with the migrant crisis the EU must act globally and step up diplomatic efforts to resolve the crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan," he said.
The Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, launched in 2000, comprises Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. The initiative is currently presided over by Croatia, and meetings of parliament speakers are held once a year during the presidency of each participating state.