Bi­den meets Balkan lead­ers at sum­mit on refugees, threats

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ZA­GREB, Croa­tia: Ten­sions over a record surge of asy­lum-seek­ers and fears that Is­lamic mil­i­tants may have infiltrated the flow brought former Balkans ri­vals to­gether in an ur­gent sum­mit yes­ter­day, along with US Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

Bi­den’s trip comes amid a heated de­bate in the US about whether to ad­mit Syr­ian refugees fol­low­ing the Is­lamic State group’s at­tack in Paris that left 130 dead and hun­dreds wounded. At least two of the mil­i­tants in­volved in the Nov. 13 Paris at­tacks had passed through Greece, ap­par­ently pos­ing as asy­lum-seek­ers.

In Wash­ing­ton, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has passed laws tight­en­ing vet­ting for refugees from Syria and Iraq, although the White House con­tends the ad­di­tional re­stric­tions would ef­fec­tively block peo­ple from those coun­tries. Bi­den’s ap­pear­ance in­di­cates re­newed U.S. in­ter­est in the re­gion, which was en­gulfed in a bloody civil war in the 1990s as the former Yu­goslavia broke up. The sum­mit in­cludes former Yu­goslav states and Al­ba­nia.

“The United States of America, and me in par­tic­u­lar speak­ing for the pres­i­dent of the United States, has had an over­whelm­ing in­ter­est in this re­gion for the last 25 years,” Bi­den said af­ter meet­ing the Slove­nian pres­i­dent ahead of the sum­mit in the Croa­t­ian cap­i­tal of Za­greb.

The refugee cri­sis is stok­ing ten­sions among the coun­tries on the mi­grant cor­ri­dor - Greece, Mace­do­nia, Ser­bia, Croa­tia and Slove­nia. “The sum­mit comes at the right time, as se­cu­rity con­cerns have in­creased due to re­cent events,” Slove­nian Pres­i­dent Borut Pa­hor said. “Politi­cians now have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to take mea­sures for se­cur­ing peace and se­cu­rity in the re­gion.”

Man­ag­ing the mas­sive refugee flow has proved a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity chal­lenge for the coun­tries on the mi­grant route - and Europe’s in­abil­ity to agree on a com­mon pol­icy to­ward the surge has made the sit­u­a­tion worse. Slove­nia wants to limit the flow of peo­ple talk­ing the Balkans route - from Greece through the Balkans up to Ger­many - so it can re-es­tab­lish the nor­mal func­tion­ing of Europe’s pass­port-free Schen­gen bor­der zone. Slove­nia has started to erect a ra­zor wire fence along its bor­der with Croa­tia to aid these ef­forts, but Pa­hor said get­ting an agree­ment with its south­ern neigh­bor should be its main pri­or­ity.

The Balkan na­tions now say they will only let in peo­ple flee­ing con­flicts, such those from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and not peo­ple con­sid­ered eco­nomic mi­grants. Bi­den said it’s “quite an ac­com­plish­ment” that the re­gion’s former war foes are now sit­ting at the same ta­ble and dis­cussing com­mon chal­lenges. “I have been work­ing on this for the past 25 years,” Bi­den said, jok­ing that he was last in the re­gion dur­ing the rule of former Yu­goslav Com­mu­nist Leader Josip Broz Tito, who died in 1980, and Croa­tia’s first Pres­i­dent Franjo Tud­j­man, who died in 1999. “That’s how old I am,” Bi­den, 73, said.

— AP

ZA­GREB: US Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, cen­ter, Croa­tia’s Pres­i­dent Kolinda Grabar-Ki­tarovic, left and Slove­nia’s Pres­i­dent Borut Pa­hor greet the me­dia in Za­greb yes­ter­day.

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