Findings from my mission to Slovenia - Refugee crisis, Western Balkans Route - EU monitor

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Findings from my mission to Slovenia - Refugee crisis, Western Balkans Route

Source: V. (Violeta) Bulc i, published on Friday, November 13 2015.

The unfolding refugee crisis is an unprecedented challenge, which calls for unprecedented actions. Within the Commission, this means that we should work across all areas and pool all of our resources to address the crisis. For this reason, I travelled today to Slovenia to engage with local actors in their language: I explained what the Commission is doing and listened to their needs.

Slovenia is at the forefront of this crisis. Over the last three weeks, 200,000 people entered the country, the equivalent of 10% of its population. Imagine 6.5 million people entering France! In spite of this, I saw no resignation from the people I met. I was very impressed, even humbled, by the dedication of all: at the Red Cross office in Ljubljana or at the two reception facilities I visited, Dobova at the Croatian border and Šentilj at the Austrian. The level of cooperation and coordination in these centers is remarkable, NGOs, volunteers, police, civil protection, military; I can only bow to them all.

To a large extent, the analysis they make of the situation is the same. The leaders’ meeting, which took place in Brussels on 25 October at the invitation of President Juncker and with the active involvement of Slovenia, led to immediate operational improvements. Countries now communicate on a constant basis. As a result, no trains and no groups come unannounced. The cross-border crossings are better managed, resulting in more decent living conditions in centres. Of course, there are still issues. I have been told that due to interoperability and capacity problems, trains cannot cross into Austria. As Transport Commissioner, I will look into this.

We should however not be complacent. The capacities - both humane and material - are being stretched to the maximum. Volunteers work in shift of twelve hours and are reaching physical exhaustion. Slovenia does not have a sufficient population to provide a pool of volunteers large enough. Winter will also soon hit the country and below 0 temperatures will make some of the equipment used today inadequate. In Šentilj, I’ve been told that none of the tents are winterized and that there is a shortage of wheelchairs and ambulances. In Dobova, the medical module will have to be dismantled at the end of November. In both locations, warm clothes and vaccines are lacking, not only for refugees but also for the volunteers. The European Civil Protection Mechanism, whereby a country can request in-kind assistance from other Member States with the Commission covering shipping costs, can address all of this. Slovenia made two first requests on 22 and 29 October, but so far the European solidarity has only been partial. I invite Member States to make new pledges in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster. For its part, the Commission has unlocked extra funding for Slovenia. Last Friday, we awarded the country another €10 million.

These are the messages I will share with Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar whom I meet this evening. This will also be what I will report to the College of Commissioners next week. With winter looming in, we are at a turning point. More than ever, we need European solidarity.