Commodities: EU Plan to Stem Flow Threatens to Throw Migrants Into Limbo

Sun Oct 25 05:13:21 2015 EDT

By Valentina Pop

     SPIELFELD, AUSTRIA--Politicians, police and aid workers on the main migrant trail into Europe cast doubts on a
plan to be discussed Sunday by 10 European leaders on how to stem the influx to Germany and Scandinavia.

     The plan, put together by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, seeks to slow the passage on the safe
corridor that has formed through central and Eastern Europe toward Austria and Germany by increasing border
surveillance, properly registering migrants and stopping bus and train transfers to the next border without the consent
of the neighboring country.

     Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, who is expected to attend the meeting in Brussels on Sunday, called the
plan "frivolous and unrealistic." Speaking to NovaTv on Saturday, Mr. Milanovic said his country will refuse to become
a collection center for refugees if other countries close their borders.

     Austria has been struggling over the past few days to redirect its relief efforts toward its southern border with
Slovenia after Hungary completed a border-fence system last week that triggered a redirecting of the migrant trail from
Serbia to Croatia and Slovenia.

     Spielfeld, a customs point on the Austrian border to Slovenia, repurposed into a migrant dispatching area managed
by the Austrian army, had seen over 10,000 people arrive in 24 hours on Thursday. The previous day, thousands of people
broke through the security barrier and started walking on the highway, exasperated with the slow pace of being boarded
onto buses and driven north, toward the German border.

     On Saturday, over 4,000 people were waiting at Spielfeld to be transferred, cramming into metal crowd control
fences and booing as soldiers pushed them back. A vehicle with loudspeakers constantly repeated a message in English,
German and Arabic: "Please step back, there are women and children, don't push."

     "Tensions are running high because these people have long weeks of travel behind them and they feel they are so
close to Germany, they don't want to wait any longer," said Fritz Grundnig, a spokesman for the regional police in

     Mr. Grundnig said the Juncker plan wouldn't work if countries stopped allowing people to pass through. "Closing
the borders is no solution, it would only shift the burden on the next country."

     Neither is it realistic to expect everyone to be registered and have their fingerprints introduced into the
EU-wide Eurodac database for asylum seekers. "It would take an hour per person to take their fingerprints, biometric
data and picture," Mr. Grundnig said.

     "So what we do is, we give them a paper saying they crossed illegally and that they have eight days to register
with local authorities. But we know they don't stay."

     A handful of people were returned to Slovenia as translators discovered they were lying about their identity and
showing fake documents, he said.

     Transport was slow, he said, because buses are dispatched only when an overnight shelter up north says it can
accommodate another 20 to 50 people. Hundreds of taxis were parked nearby, waiting for wealthier refugees who can
afford the EUR400 ($440) to EUR500 ride to Vienna.

     Meanwhile, a new heated tent was erected Saturday for people to use at night. The day before, 2,000 people spent
the night in the existing tents, but several hundred stayed out in the open, lighting campfires to warm themselves.

     One of the families that had spent the night out in the open, in temperatures little above freezing point, said
they refused to go to the heated tents for fear of losing their spot in the line for the bus.

     "I will get a heart attack if they close the border and don't let us go further," said Kefa Halil, a 38-year old
hairdresser from Afrin, a town in northwestern Syria. Ms. Halil was part of a 16-strong group, including her husband
and two children, who were headed for Norway, where they have relatives.

     Humanitarian workers witnessing the determination of the people to keep going doubt they can be persuaded against
continuing their journey to Germany and Scandinavian countries.

     "They know that if a mass of people gets up and leaves, there is nothing to stop them. Police cannot use force
against them, they are civilians, there are women and children among them," said Edith Pfeiffer, head of the regional
Caritas branch, a Christian aid group providing translators and managing the distribution of food and clothes together
with the Red Cross. She said the translators were trying to explain that Germany may not be the paradise they dream of,
but few believe that and just want to keep going. "Only about 5% want to stay in Austria," Ms. Pfeiffer said.

     Write to Valentina Pop at

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  October 25, 2015 05:13 ET (09:13 GMT)

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