BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is concerned that people-smugglers could open a new sea route to Italy from Albania if land borders in the Balkans are sealed, EU officials said on Sunday.
Two decades after the 80-km (50-mile) Adriatic crossing saw shiploads of Albanians fleeing post-communist chaos, EU and Balkan leaders meeting in Brussels to try and control refugee movements planned to agree tighter supervision of the overland route to Albania from Greece, where most migrants enter Europe.
“There is a risk that the route to Albania and Italy may become the new route in winter,” one senior EU official told Reuters.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was attending the meeting hosted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Italy, where the bulk of migrants have arrived in the south from Libya, was not invited to the Balkan conference.
Nearly 500,000 people, including many Syrian and Iraqis but also Asian migrants, have reached Greece from Turkey in the first 10 months of 2015, according to EU figures. Most moved on to Macedonia on their way via Croatia or Hungary to Germany.
However, with Hungary sealing off its borders and other states taking similar steps, tens of thousands are now facing worsening weather stuck in the Balkans. The sea route to Italy, though barred by mountains between Greece and Albania, could offer a faster, but perilous journey.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Alastair Macdonald