Four countries that lie on the Balkans migrant route can immediately provide temporary accommodation to 12,000 refugees, including Croatia, which can accommodate 2,000 people, the European Commission said on Thursday evening.
The EC said this in a statement issued after the first video conference of contact points appointed to exchange information on refugees. All countries on the Balkans refugee route that attended a summit in Brussels this past Sunday agreed to appoint contact points to exchange information on a daily basis on the movement of refugees and management of the migrant wave.
One of the most important decisions adopted at the summit was the promise by the participating countries that by the end of the year they will create the capacity to provide temporary accommodation to 50,000 people in Greece and to as many in other countries along the Balkan refugee route.
The EC statement said that four countries on the Balkan route had stated that they could immediately provide temporary accommodation to 12,000 people, with 2,000 to be taken in by Croatia, 5,000 by Austria, 3,000 by Serbia and 2,000 by Slovenia.
The Greek government reported on their planning for the delivery of 50,000 reception places in Greece before the end of the year, including 20,000 through host family and rent subsidy arrangements in cooperation with the UNHCR.
Reception centres in Greece would be different from those in other countries intersected by the Balkans refugee route. In Greece, people will be accommodated while waiting for their asylum request to be processed or for relocation to another EU country if the request was granted, or for being returned home if they were not granted asylum. In the Western Balkans, the reception centres will provide people with provisional accommodation so that they do not sleep in the rain and the cold while waiting to be transported.
EU countries have so far pledged to send a total of 183 police officers to Slovenia, of the 400 requested, with 13 already deployed in the country.
The EC said that the EU's external border management agency Frontex informed the video conference that earlier in the day it had sent letters to the national Frontex points of contact in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia to follow up on the commitment to upscale Operation Poseidon and to reinforce Frontex support at the Bulgarian-Turkish border, at the Croatian-Serbian border and to support registration in Greece at its external land borders. The letters outline how Frontex envisages to provide that support and now require feedback and agreement from the national authorities, the EC said.
The EC also reported on its talks with international financial institutions to explore how they can support the expansion of reception facilities along the Western Balkans route.
The meeting identified the Council of Europe Development Bank as the best place to contribute, since it is able to operate both within and outside the European Union, is able to offer grants rather than loans and has a dedicated migrant and refugee fund.
The meeting also discussed communication activities to ensure that asylum seekers are provided with sufficient information on the processes in place, the facilities made available to them, the rules on registration and identification, and the opportunities available to them under the EU relocation scheme. The clear intention with this approach is to encourage asylum seekers not to travel irregularly across Europe, putting themselves in physical harm and exposing themselves to unscrupulous people smugglers, the EC said.
The next video conference will be held on November 4.