Saturday, 7 March 2020

Plenković in Phone Conversation with Erdogan: EU Backs Ceasefire in Syria

ZAGREB, March 7, 2020 - The European Union supports the agreement on ceasefire in Syria and on the de-escalation of the situation with migrants on the Greek-Turkish border, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković says on his Twitter account after he contacted top EU officials and the Turkish President on the phone on Friday.

After the telephone conversations with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Croatia, the current holder of the EU presidency, tweeted that "we support the agreed ceasefire in Syria and de-escalation of the situation with migrants along the Greek-Turkish border."

Thousands of migrants and refugees are trying to enter the EU after Turkey's claim that its border with Europe is open.

The latest developments prompted the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which was convened in Zagreb on Friday, to adopt a statement on the crisis in Idlib and the situation at the EU external borders.

The statement reads that the Council "acknowledges the increased migratory burden and risks Turkey is facing on its territory and the substantial efforts it has made in hosting 3,7 million migrants and refugees."

"The Council also strongly rejects Turkey's use of migratory pressure for political purposes and restates that the EU and its member states remain determined to effectively protect EU’s external borders, in accordance with EU and international law.

"In this context the Council reiterates the EU's full solidarity with Greece, which faces an unprecedented situation, as well as with Bulgaria, Cyprus and other member states in their efforts to manage the EU's external borders," reads the statement.

Acknowledging Turkey's efforts to stop a migrant wave in 2015, the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU calls on Ankara to honour the 2016 agreement.

Addressing the Council in Zagreb earlier on Friday, PM Plenković said the migrants who had arrived at the Greek border in the past few days should return to Turkey.

We think that's the most appropriate option. They are not people who came because of the current situation in Idlib but people who have been in Turkey for several years, he added.

"On Idlib, the Council notes that the recent and continuing offensive by the Syrian regime and its backers, including Russia, is creating untold human suffering and has provoked the worst humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the Syrian conflict," the EU Council says in its statement.

"The Council therefore calls for an urgent de-escalation of the conflict in Syria in order to avert a slide into international military confrontation, and prevent further suffering.

"The Council notes the outcome of the Russia-Turkey meeting yesterday in Moscow and reiterates, in the strongest possible terms, its call on all parties to keep in place an immediate and a sustainable ceasefire, to guarantee the protection of civilians on the ground and from the air and to enable the unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance by the international community," reads the Zagreb statement.

More news about relations between Croatia and Turkey can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Turkey Advises Migrants on Routes to France, Germany: Avoid Croatia

March 6, 2020 - Turkey has released a map of route options for migrants hoping to reach France and Germany, and Croatia has been bypassed. Greek media outlets recently reported Turkey's geographical map with "routes" running from Turkey into Western Europe.

They claim that it is further evidence that Ankara has officially participated in the developing crisis by encouraging migrants and refugees to enter the EU illegally. The map, along with instructions in Arabic, was published by the official Turkish state television TRT Arabic and posted on their Twitter page and Facebook page on February 28, 2020.


Turkey Migrant Map Shows Five Routes to France, Germany

According to the map, migrants and refugees are directed to five route options through Turkey to five "entry points" to Greece: four on its islands, and one via the land border, across the Evros river, where the Greek army was recently deployed, and where conflicts across the border line are now almost continuous.

Upon arrival in Greece, migrants and refugees would, according to the map, cross through Italy on their way to France, which is shown as a major destination.


TRT Arabic Map Bypasses All Former Yugoslav Countries

The other route from Turkey heads Northwest, bypassing all the countries of the former Yugoslavia, then passes through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, where the road branches in two directions: one towards Germany and on towards France, writes Dnevnik.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened European Union countries with a new migrant crisis if they do not support his efforts in the Syrian civil war and provide Turkey with additional aid for housing migrants.

EU governments have refused to increase financial aid to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey under the terms of their €6 billion migration deal, insisting Europe would not bow to threats from Ankara over opening its border with Greece, according to the Financial Times on March 6, 2020.

Following an emergency meeting in Zagreb on Friday, EU27 foreign ministers held firm on their criticism of Mr Erdogan for using migrants for “political purposes” after a build-up of refugees on the Greek-Turkish border. Mr Erdogan had vowed to open the country’s frontier with Europe over the weekend, sparking the prospect of a new refugee crisis.

Germany has been pushing for more financial support for Mr Erdogan to stave off any repeat of Europe’s 2015 migration crisis. Before the events of this week, member states had discussed the possibility of freeing up about €1 billion from the EU’s current budget for the Turkey facility. But ministers on Friday said they would not ramp up aid in response to pressures on the Greek border.


Turkey Demands More EU Aid to House Migrants

Turkey has demanded more financial help to integrate the nearly four million refugees in the country. The EU has been paying out cash to projects to help the integration process since 2016 but key programmes are due to run out of money soon. Ankara has complained that the cash disbursements are too slow and accused the EU of failing to live up to its promises to liberalise visas for Turks as agreed under the deal.

European governments have disagreed over how to engage with Turkey after Mr. Erdogan’s comment prompted thousands of refugees to head to the border with Greece, sparking violent clashes. Athens has pushed for a tough condemnation of Mr. Erdogan’s actions but has met resistance from Berlin and The Hague, which want to keep diplomatic ties open with Ankara.

EU diplomats monitoring the border developments said the flow of migrants towards Greece had stopped in recent days and Mr Erdogan was back in compliance with the terms of the 2016 deal.

Follow this page and our Politics page for Total Croatia News updates on the migrant crisis in Croatia.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Deploying Army Along Border Not Being Considered

ZAGREB, March 6, 2020 - President Zoran Milanović said on Friday the National Security Council did not discuss sending army to the border or changing the law to give the army different powers than those currently envisaged by the constitution.

"We know the army's tasks. It protects the integrity, independence and sovereignty of the state. Those are difficult categories and a migrant crisis is not a threat to them," Milanović told reporters a day after the National Security Council discussed the possibility of the army helping the police in case of a new migrant crisis.

At this moment, the army is not needed on the border, as could be seen in the press release issued after the meeting, which does not mention it at all, the president said.

The situation is being followed in the hope that it will not come to it that the army has to help the police as it did in 2015, he said, referring to that year's migrant wave. "In 2015, the Croatian army did a huge job without any legislative framework."

As for calls by the Croatian Sovereigntists party to amend the law and give the military different powers in case of a crisis as Slovenia has done, the president said Slovenia's deterrence tactic was "an operetta."

"In Slovenia it's been done so that soldiers walk along the border together with the police. The police are armed, the soldiers aren't. I don't want Croatian soldiers on the border with their hands in their pockets. We don't want them with weapons either, we see no need for that," said Milanovic.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Forum 2020 Calls for Humane and Sustainable Solutions to Migrant Crisis

ZAGREB, March 6, 2020 - Several Croatian civil society organisations gathered within the informal platform Forum 2020 called on the European Union on Friday to urgently adopt sustainable and solidary solutions to the humanitarian crisis at the land border between Turkey and Greece, on the Greek islands and at the external borders of the European Union.

The organisations held a press conference under the motto "For an open Europe" ahead of an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Zagreb. They condemned statements by senior EU officials aimed at undermining the rule of law, and were particularly concerned about the idea of sending troops to deal with civilians at the EU's external borders.

"Currently we are witnessing a political war between Turkey and the EU in which both sides use people for bullets. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that Greece must be Europe's shield," said Tajana Tadić of the organisation Are You Syrious?

She said that support by EU politicians to countries such as Greece and Croatia, which are expected to do a dirty job by protecting the EU's borders, even at the cost of human lives, was "concerning and hypocritical".

Tadic said that a legal and constructive EU response to the crisis should include "a solidary sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers among all the member states, rather than abolishing human rights and continuing a political trade with despots such as Erdogan."

"Weapons are not and cannot be an answer to a cry for help," said Sara Kekuš of the Centre for Peace Studies, adding that "Europe must not send troops to deal with people fleeing war and conflict."

Kekuš said that during its presidency the Croatian government should put the reform of the common asylum system on the agenda of the Council of the EU.

She said that the reform should include providing appropriate protection and honouring the principle of non-refoulement, an in-depth review of the Dublin system with a permanent sharing of responsibilities, sanctioning countries that violate human rights and refuse to participate in the sharing of responsibilities, and providing funding for integration rather than continuing to invest in the militarisation of the borders and deportation of people.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 6 March 2020

National Security Council Discusses Migrant Movements

ZAGREB, March 6, 2020 - During a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday, the chiefs of security and intelligence agencies and the interior minister presented data on migrant movements, briefed on activities by Croatia's police in protecting the state border, and discussed the possibility of providing support to the police.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković informed of activities related to the potential development of a new migrant crisis on the eastern-Mediterranean/western Balkan route, the crisis in Syria and the situation on the Turkish-Greek border, a press release issued after the meeting said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Davor Božinović presented the conclusions of an extraordinary meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council on Wednesday which he chaired.

The National Security Council was briefed on the activities by Croatia's police in protecting the state border and in that regard, the possibility of providing support to the police by other relevant state institutions and services was considered, the press release said.

All measures regarding COVID-19 conducted in timely manner, efficiently and transparently

Members of the government and the national civil protection authority briefed the Council on all the activities undertaken at the national level over the past two months related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus as well as at the level of the European Union, considering Croatia's role in presiding over the Council of the European Union.

It was concluded that all the measures were undertaken in a timely manner, efficiently and transparently. In addition to the activities regarding health and security, the possible consequences to finances, tourism and the economy were also analysed.

After a debate it was concluded that all the relevant institutions should continue with additional measures as required, including regular meetings of the EU health council, the press release from the President's Office said.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Ostojić: Unless Law Is Amended, Army Can Only Provide Support to Police

ZAGREB, March 4, 2020 - The parliamentary Domestic Policy and National Security Committee's chair, Ranko Ostojić (SDP), on Wednesday said that without changing the law, at the moment the army could only provide assistance to Croatia's police in protecting the border.

"According to current legislation the army can only provide support. It could have done that even earlier during the last migrant crisis. That has not changed. It (the military) does not have police powers," Ostojić told reporters in Parliament House.

He explained that the army can provide all forms of support to the police (all forms of logistics, various types of assistance, and so on).

Social Democratic Party MP Ostojić also said that all those who were calling for the army deployment on the border should realise that the border protection falls within the remit of the police, while the military could only help police personnel.

Asked whether Croatia had the option like Slovenia did in 2015 when it entrusted the army with new powers for three months, Ostojić said that the law needs to be amended for that.

"It is necessary to change the law. They have a different legislative solution that allows the army to have police powers. We don't have that here," he said.

Ostojić believes that there is no need to make any changes to the law because with 6,500 police officers Croatia has sufficient forces to fulfil its duties.

Everyone needs to abide by the law, he said adding that he thinks this mistrust in the Interior Ministry is odd.

"I don't know what that is founded on. The police are sufficiently capable to do their job. At the moment that a crisis occurs which would require the army's engagement, then I think that the National Security Council might offer some new solutions" Ostojić concluded.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Forum 2020 Calls on Plenković to Push for EU Asylum System Reform

ZAGREB, March 5, 2020 - The Centre for Peace Studies and Are You Syrious NGOs sent an open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Wednesday, asking him to push for a reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and better cooperation with third countries.

The two NGOs sent the letter on behalf of Forum 2020 over the current migrant crisis on the Greek border and the announcement that Croatia will use all available means to help protect the EU's external borders, which could result in the army being deployed on the Croatian border.

That, Forum 2020 believes, is not in line with Plenković's role as the prime minister of the country currently chairing the Council of the EU.

"Given that in your announcements of the presidency, you said the Croatian government would push for a reform of the Common European Asylum System and better cooperation with third countries, which includes Southeast Europe, Forum 2020 believes your first step in the context of the latest situation should be in that direction," Forum 2020 says in the letter to Plenković.

Forum 2020 is an informal platform of civil society organisations formed on the occasion of Croatia's EU presidency in the first half of this year.

It recalls that Plenković said in 2016 that reforming the CEAS was an important step towards a more equitable solution to the refugee crisis by sharing responsibility and solidarity of all member states in the reception of migrants.

Forum 2020 says Plenković has not pushed for that policy actively and sovereignly over the past four years but allowed Croatia to take on from the EU "the heavy burden... of the inhumane treatment of refugees and migrants and violations of their human rights."

The CEAS must be based on human rights, have clear goals and remove the dysfunctions of the current system, and its reform must protect and strengthen, not reduce the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, Forum 2020 says.

The current instability and insecurity on the EU's external border is a consequence of inadequate EU policies, primarily harmful agreements with Turkey and Libya, which violate human rights and build their positions on blackmail, undermining respect for human dignity and the rule of law which the EU has the duty to protect, the platform says.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Milanović Says Current Migrant Crisis Different Than in 2015

ZAGREB, March 4, 2020 - The current migrant flow from Turkey to Europe is not the same as in 2015 when Germany said refugees and migrants were welcome, Croatian President Zoran Milanović said on Tuesday, recalling that Ankara then was not as involved in the war in Syria.

Speaking on RTL television, the president said he was confident the situation would calm down and that he saw the latest developments as a consequence of a rushed decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who, because of the death of over 30 Turkish troops in conflicts in Idlib, Syria, "reacted impulsively".

"I understand him to a certain extent but Turkey is involved in the conflict there in a way in which it was not involved in 2015."

Milanović said he was confident there would not be a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, which he called "unprecedented".

He recalled that migrants were currently heading for the Turkish-Greek border but that they had not entered Greece and said he did not think they would.

He voiced confidence that it will not be necessary to deploy the Croatian army along the Croatian border.

He said that during the 2015 migrant flow, the Croatian police did their job but that the army did the bulk of the logistical part.

The president said that under international humanitarian law, people must not be returned back to where they were in danger, recalling that during the 1990s war Croatia took in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, although "we ourselves had problems."

In this case, "even five years ago, the people coming from Turkey were in no danger at all," he said.

Asked why he chose Slovenia and Austria for his first visits as president and not BiH, Milanovic said BiH had been his first stop when he was prime minister.

"We have the Slovenia-Austria-Croatia trilateral initiative. That's the main framework for action in this region, with states that historically have been very close."

Given that the 12th Croatian army contingent is going to Afghanistan on Friday, the president said, "That's certainly the last one. A few days ago, we saw that the Americans too are leaving." As the armed forces supreme commander, he will visit the Croatian troops in Afghanistan before the end of the mission.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Interior Minister Says Police Control Border, Migrant Situation

ZAGREB, March 4, 2020 - The Croatian army and police are and have been cooperating and the police are controlling the border and the situation, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Tuesday, commenting on the military chief of staff's statement that the army was ready to help the police in case of a migrant wave.

"They exchanged all the data they should and it was never in question whether the army would be engaged if necessary. However, it wasn't necessary and I hope it won't be, Božinović said.

The EU policy is to protect the external borders from illegal entry, he said, adding that EU leaders visited the Greek-Turkish border earlier in the day to show where the EU borders are.

The situation on the Greek-Turkish border is serious but not dramatic, he said.

The new military chief of staff, Vice Admiral Robert Hranj, said the army was ready to help the police and could provide logistical support in case of a migrant crisis.

Under the law, the army can help with transport, medical evacuation, camp construction, as well as provide medical, veterinary and engineering support, he told the public broadcaster.

"The army has operational plans and organised forces that, if so decided, would be activated in border areas... at sea and in the air. In the first stage, 2,500 troops will be ready and more can be mobilised, depending on the political decision," Hranj said.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Plenković: We All Stand in Solidarity with Greece

ZAGREB, March 3, 2020 - The European Union and each member state support and stand in solidarity with Greece, which is facing a wave of illegal migrants, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Kastanies near the Greek-Turkish border on Tuesday.

As chairman of the Council of the EU, he visited the border together with Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and European Parliament President Davide Sassoli.

They arrived to support Greece given its efforts to protect its own and thereby the external EU border, preventing illegal migration.

"We have sent the message that the EU and all member states will support and stand in solidarity with Greece," said Plenković.

The European leaders flew over the border area in a helicopter to see the situation on the ground. They were joined by Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović, who will chair an extraordinary meeting of EU interior ministers on this topic on Wednesday.

The Greek army, police and PM Mitsotakis briefed them on what is being done to protect the border.

"It's important that Greece, with its security forces, prevents a possible new illegal migration wave," said Plenković. He and his colleagues also visited the Greek police barricades on foot.

He said Greece would receive support from Frontex and a swift border response team as well as funding for that.

He said the situation was similar to 2015 and 2016 but with a key difference. "This Greek government, unlike the previous one (led by Alexis Tsipras), is controlling its border."

"After today's briefing, I believe Prime Minister Mitsotakis and the Greek authorities will guard their border," Plenković said.

EU leaders met in Kastanies amid increasing EU concerns about the arrival of thousands of migrants to the Greek border, after Turkey said it "opened its door" for refugees because dozens of Turkish soldiers had been killed in northern Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he had refused €1 billion in European aid for holding migrants in Turkey because the EU did not wish to "share the burden".

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

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