EU to help Balkan countries struggling with migrant wave: Merkel

Update: July, 09/2015 - 15:35

BELGRADE — The European Union will help Hungary and western Balkan countries struggling with an influx of migrants, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

"Greece and Italy were the first destination for refugees and migrants... but the situation changed significantly in June and July," Merkel told reporters on Wednesday after meeting Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

"The refugees are increasingly seeking a route through the western Balkans.

"That means we will help these countries," she said.

Merkel added that the EU's current asylum system "does not work any more and affects Serbia and Hungary, so we have to help Hungary too".

The number of migrants and refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia, travelling overland through the Balkans on their way to EU, has dramatically increased in recent years.

The number of people apprehended crossing the Serbia-Hungary border alone has risen by more than 2,500 per cent since 2010from 2,370 to 60,602, Amnesty International said in a report earlier this week.

According to the Serbian interior ministry, more than 34,000 asylum seekers were registered in Serbia since the beginning of the year.

Last month Hungarian authorities announced plans to build a barrier that will run all the way along the 175-kilometre border with Serbia in order to keep out migrants.

But both Merkel and Vucic said that walls "bring no solutions".

"This is shared problem for all of us," Vucic said, adding that Serbia, which is not a member of the EU, needed the bloc's help to deal with the influx.

Merkel on Wednesday began a two-day Balkans tour in Albania, where she supported the bid by states in the region to join the EU, before heading to Serbia.

She is due to visit Bosnia on Thursday. — AFP