Donald Tusk.jpg
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council of the European Union
Photograph: EPA/PETER FOLEY

European countries must make sure that the Balkan route is completely closed to irregular migrants, European Council President Donald Tusk said Saturday at the start of a summit in Vienna.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern hosted leaders from Balkan countries as well as his Greek and German counterparts in the Austrian capital to discuss ways to improve the protection of the EU's external borders.

European Union member states must work closely with Balkan countries and Turkey to achieve this aim, Tusk said.

"We need to confirm politically and in practice that the Western Balkan route of irregular migration is closed for good," he told reporters.

At the last such meeting in February in Vienna, leaders decided to close this main route from Greece to Germany and Austria.

Greece and Germany, which did not take part that time, were irritated. Migrants were left stranded at Greece's northern border, while Berlin warned that border closures were not the answer to the migration crisis.

However, this step and Hungary's restrictive policies have reduced arrivals in major refugee destination countries like Germany, where Merkel faces criticism from friends and foes over her open-door policy.

European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos struck a different tone than Tusk on Saturday in Vienna, demanding that any European solution must be based on "humanity and dignity."

In addition, he criticized EU members that have not been willing to agree to a common migration policy.

"Solidarity is not a la carte," he said.

Eastern EU countries have refused to take part in the EU's programme to spread asylum seekers evenly across the block.

Hungary has taken a particularly tough stance, blocking entry with a fence and refusing to take back asylum seekers from other EU countries even if they originally applied for protection in Hungary.

Besides Austria, Germany and Greece, the Vienna meeting includes leaders from Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.

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