19 February 2016

On 15 February the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic, gathered in Prague in the framework of the Visegrad Four, and called for an alternative plan to stop refugees crossing Greece’s borders with Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It was the 25th anniversary of the group, created in the Hungarian city of Visegrad.

“A coherent European strategy is lacking and it is legitimate for the Balkan countries to protect their borders,” said the Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak to the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Reportedly, the countries are planning to step in jointly and support FYROM and Bulgaria in border control operations. The European Council meeting that will take place in mid-March has been set as the indicative deadline.

The group openly opposes Germany’s policy towards refugees and refused the European system of Relocation proposed in September 2015. From the Visegrad countries’ point of view, this strategy would only encourage asylum seekers to travel to Europe. Hungary even blamed some European countries as being responsible for the refugee crisis and for the increased terroris threat. One of the solutions proposed is the sealing of all borders and the establishment of official crossing points. Furthermore, as stated in the joint statement issued following the meeting, the Prime Ministers called for the swift adoption of the Council’s position on the “European Border and Coast Guard” and for a rapid implementation of the EU-Turkey joint action plan.

Ahead of the summit, UNHCR called for Visegrad countries to show solidarity towards refugees who are fleeing war and need protection, as they have done in the past. “Several times during their rich history, these very same countries have provided safe refuge for hundreds of thousands of refugees and could do so again,” said UNHCR’s Feixas Vihé.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 February 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.