As hundreds of thousands of migrants came into Europe in 2015, one of the most common ways for them to arrive in the EU was through the Balkan route. Which countries does the Balkan route consist of, why is it a popular way to come into the EU, and last but not least, what led European policymakers to close it?
— Brendan McDonald (@7piliers) November 8, 2015
The wars in Syria and Iraq have driven asylum seekers through the Balkan route - a path that usually begins in Turkey and then winds through either Bulgaria or Greece. The migrants then make their way futher north, eventually reaching Slovenia or Hungary on the path towards countries like Germany.
The use of the Balkan route as a way for migrants to move around Europe to seek asylum began in 2012, when the EU eased its visa restrictions on Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
For those migrants on the route, technology plays a key role. They use smartphone apps and Facebook groups as a way to communicate which parts of the route are closed and which parts are open. Some EU countries on the route, such as Hungary, are very vehemently opposed to taking refugees. One Arabic group on Facebook, called "Karajat Munsthateen," has migrants and refugees chatting about making it to the EU and offering advice on border closings.
Often, migrants pay considerable sums of money to human smugglers to cross the ocean on the initial part of the route from Turkey to Greece. This can have disasterous results. For example, Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, made international headlines when a Turkish journalist took a picture of his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach. His family had tried to leave Turkey to Greece by boat.
Once the migrants reach Greece they then try to undertake the rest of journey towards Northern Europe. Typically migrants try to move through countries that have more antagonistic refugee policies to more friendly ones. After many migrants were reaching Europe in 2015, German chancellor Angela Merkel adopted an open door policy towards refugees under the motto "We can do this." Other countries have become more restrictive to migrants entering the country.
In March 2016, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia all announced that their borders were shut. However, refugees frustrated by the closing of borders still managed to go along the route. Often, migrants stranded in Greece, who are supposed to be redistributed to other EU countries, end up taking matters into their hands and moving across the Macedonian border.
Recently the Hungarian government enacted a law that allows all asylum seekers in the country to be put in camps on its border with Serbia. Refugees in Serbia who would normally move further along the Balkan route towards Germany and Austria, are more frequently deciding to stay in the country due to Hungary's anti-migrant policy.
Author: Wesley Dockery