UN Pact on Migration Splits Balkan States

Bulgaria is the latest EU-member state to clarify that it will be not back the UN pact on migration, due to be signed next month in Marrakech, claiming it puts the national interest at risk.  

 Migrants wait in line to cross the border in front of a fence set up by Macedonian authorities on the Greek side of the border between Greece and Macedonia, near the Greek village of Idomeni, 07 December 2015. Photo: EPA/ZOLTAN BALOGH

Several countries lining the so-called “Balkan route” will be joining the United States, Austria, and Hungary in opposing the planned international-level deal on easing migration.

Bulgaria on Monday was the latest to say it would not sign the UN Global Migration Pact because it “jeopardizes Bulgaria’s national interest”, ruling GERB party parliamentary group chief Tsvetan Tsvetanov said, one day after Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said the decision should be left to parliament.

Once one EU state had expressed such disagreement, the EU as a whole cannot implement the UN convention, she claimed.

Bulgarian border police on Sunday announced a temporary restriction on people entering an area along the Maritsa River at the Bulgarian-Greek border after a recent increase in illegal migration in the area.

Bulgaria’s announcement comes after four other EU countries, Hungary, Austria, Poland and Croatia, announced that they would not sign the UN document in Marrakech, Morocco, on December 11-12.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which won’t be legally binding, was finalized under UN auspices in July.

The UN pact addresses issues such as how to protect people who migrate, how to integrate them into new countries and how to return them to their home countries but the agreement does not stipulate any mandatory number of migrants to be accepted by a country.

In Croatia, the matter saw President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic at odds with the government, prompting her to announce that she would not even attend the summit in December.

“I thought the Marrakesh Agreement would regulate part of these issues, and in August I sent a message to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that I would come to Marrakesh,” Grabar Kitarovic she said at the beginning of November.

She blamed the country’s Foreign and European Affairs Ministry for not informing the public properly about the matter at hand.

Croatian police said in late October that false information that the EU country would open its borders had led to migrants and refugees gathering at border crossings in Serbia and Bosnia, hoping to enter Croatia.

Slovenia’s Prime Minister Marjan Sarec said on November 5 that he would also not attend the conference in Marrakech.

In Slovenia, the fiercest criticism for the UN plan has come from the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party, SDS, led by former Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

Last Tuesday, Jansa’s group asked parliament to convene a special session on migration and the Marrakech Declaration.

Montenegro’s Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, told BIRN that it supported the UN pact. It said it was the first United Nations agreement on adopting a common approach to international migration and all its dimensions.

The ministry called the agreement a step forward in terms of the further promotion and protection of migrants’ rights.

“Montenegro supports a global agreement that intends to make progress in this segment, strictly taking into account international law and the standards promoted within the United Nations,” the ministry added.

Bosnia and Albania have already signed the document.

The Serbian and Macedonian governments did not reply to BIRN’s inquiry about the agreement.

BIRN also contacted the Romanian presidency and Foreign Ministry but did not receive any response about their attitudes to the UN pact by the time of publication.

Although it does not lie on the Balkan Migration route, Romania since 2017 has experienced an increase in border crossings by groups of migrants and refugees, especially after Hungary erected a fence on its border with Serbia.

In mid-2017, several ships loaded with Kurds fleeing Iraq, Syrian refugees, but also some Iranians were intercepted in the Black Sea on their way to Romanian ports.

In 2015, Romania voted together with Hungary and Slovakia against a EU plan to redistribute refugees across member countries based on quotas.

The non-binding UN pact on migration was approved in July by over 190 member nations.

But the US under Donald Trump backed out last year. EU-member Hungary did the same in July and Austria, which holds the EU council presidency, announced at the end of October that it will not sign. Vienna said that it feared it would make migration a “human right”.

The UN has called the move by Austria and Hungary “bizarre and mistaken”.

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