The European Union is considering setting up facilities in non-EU Balkan states to screen asylum claims by some of the tens of thousands of migrants heading north from Greece, ministers said on Monday.
After EU interior ministers reviewed efforts to handle arrivals in Greece and Italy by sea, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselbornho, who chaired the meeting in Brussels, said he had asked them to look into ways to register and review requests from the large numbers who leave Greece undocumented, many of them heading for Germany.
If people, including Syrian refugees and Asians seeking work in wealthy Europe, continue to trek north from Greece that would imply at least partial failure of EU plans to help Athens handle arrivals in line with an EU rule that asylum requests should be handled where migrants first cross the 28-nation bloc’s border.
But EU officials said the proposal for Balkan “processing centres” was motivated by concern that, with Germany, Sweden and other rich countries warning that they were reaching their capacity to take people in, and with winter setting in, migrants might find themselves in limbo in poor, Balkan states outside the EU.
Those centres, possibly staffed by EU personnel, could conduct the registrations and identification that should have been carried out in Greece – including fingerprinting – as well an initial screening to determine whether people were likely to qualify for asylum or should be deported from Europe.
Asselborn noted that the numbers of migrants arriving on Greek islands, averaging more than 5,000 a day, was more than Athens could cope with, prompting the proposal for further facilities along the transit route from Greece through the Balkans.
“The concept must be explored further,” he told reporters.
European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos stressed there was no plan to set up “detention centres” and said the idea was to provide support for people travelling though the Balkans.
Last month, EU leaders agreed with Balkan countries, including Serbia and Macedonia, to ensure accommodation for 50,000 people in transit between Greece and the rest of the Union. EU officials said on Monday that there could be overlap between those places of shelter and asylum processing centres.