The leaders of countries along the Western Balkans migration route meet in Belgium
They agree on a 17-point plan to handle the influx of migrants across their borders
EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis Monday
Leaders of countries along the Western Balkans migration route have agreed on a 17-point action plan to deal with the influx of migrants into Europe.
Thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa have landed on European shores this year, flummoxing European policymakers and swamping the ability of authorities to care for them.
Restrictions at borders along the migration route from Europe’s main migrant entry point of Greece through to Germany have caused bottlenecks, with shortages of food and aid for those making the journey.
The leaders of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia ,Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria and Germany gathered with European Union officials and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday to discuss the flow of migrants across their countries.
Avoiding ‘humanitarian tragedy’
The leaders agreed to create an additional 100,000 places in Greece and the western Balkans to help accommodate the flow of migrants.
Their plan will also see an increase in migrant patrols off the coast of Greece. Countries also agreed to discourage migrants from moving to the border of another country, in an effort to limit secondary movement.
Other measures include taking steps to improve communication and coordination on migrants, tackling smuggling, and informing migrants and refugees on rights and obligations.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was pleased a plan had been agreed on “to ensure people are not left to fend for themselves in the rain and cold.”
“Refugees need to be treated in a humane manner along the length of the Western Balkans route to avoid a humanitarian tragedy in Europe,” Juncker said.
European Union foreign ministers are meeting Monday in Luxembourg for further talks on the crisis.
The London-based International Organization for Migration said Friday that 680,928 migrants had arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, with a further 3,175 dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea.
The wave of migrants shows no sign of abating.
The IOM said it had just recorded the highest influx of migrants to Greece yet in 2015.
“Despite deteriorating weather conditions, approximately 48,000 refugees and migrants crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands – or about 9,600 migrants and refugees in each of the past five days,” it said in a statement.
The largest number of refugees entering Europe has come from war-torn Syria.
Rights campaigners have warned that increasingly wintry weather is making migrants’ journeys more perilous.
A spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency told reporters Friday that freezing temperatures, rain and storms were already affecting migrants in central and south eastern Europe.
“In the coming weeks, 15 million displaced Syrians and Iraqis in the Middle East will face another winter away from home. Winter will be especially tough for the many who are living in insulated garages, basements or unfinished buildings, animal stalls or other flimsy makeshift structures,” spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, according to a UNHCR statement.
“For many Syrians, this will be their fifth winter in exile as the war gripping their country digs deeper. Today, refugees are now more vulnerable than ever: their savings long gone, jewelery and other valuables sold off, and increasing numbers in debt to cover basic needs.
“People are skipping meals, begging, pulling children out of school, or resorting to high-risk or degrading jobs. In Iraq, 3.2 million internally displaced people uprooted from their homes by fighting since the start of last year will face their first or second winter away from home,” the statement said.
CNN’s Radina Gigova, Don Melvin and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.