This page was archived on October 2020.


Western Balkans

32 - Supporting the Western Balkans on handling refugee flows

Grade: C
Unity 2/5
Resources 3/5
Strategy 1/5
Impact 2/5
Total 8/20

The refugee crisis placed the Western Balkans under great strain, and the EU failed to give sufficient support 

The “Balkans route” running north through Macedonia and Serbia was the main transit route for refugees heading to the EU in 2015. The Balkans also continued to be a source of economic migrants to the EU. After Syria, Kosovo and Albania were the countries whose nationals applied for asylum in Germany in the largest numbers in 2015.

Macedonia and Serbia have come under serious strain as a result of the refugee crisis. To some extent these countries are victims of the EU’s handling of the situation, as Greece actively assisted the flow of refugees into Macedonia, and Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary closed their borders or restricted entry to refugees heading north. The refugees transiting through Macedonia and Serbia strained already overstretched institutional capacities to breaking point. The domino effect of closed borders also caused bilateral tensions in the region.

The EU has focused its efforts in the Balkans on financial assistance and the establishment of “hotspot” reception centres in the region. In November, the EU convened a mini-summit that included Balkan countries. This produced promises of greater coordination and information sharing but also financial and technical assistance. There was no effort to include the countries of the Western Balkans in institutional mechanisms to deal with the crises, such as the refugee relocation mechanism.

As winter closed in, the humanitarian situation in the region deteriorated further, with concerns about the fate of refugees and their impact on an already troubled social and political landscape. At the end of 2015, Serbia and Macedonia closed their borders to all migrants except those from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.