October 24, 2015 / 10:41 AM / in 3 years

Balkan countries threaten to close borders if Germany does

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania said on Saturday they would close their borders if Germany or other countries do the same to stop refugees coming in, warning they would not allow the Balkan region to become a buffer zone for stranded migrants.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced the decision after meeting his Serbian and Romanian counterparts in the capital Sofia ahead of a planned summit of European Union leaders on Sunday.

It is an indication of the divisions that have opened up between European Union states over how to deal with an influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The three countries, we are standing ready, if Germany and Austria close their borders, not to allow our countries to become buffer zones. We will be ready to close borders,” Borisov told reporters.

“We will not expose our countries to the devastating pressure of millions that would come.”

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said this would be the three countries’ common position at an extraordinary meeting of some European leaders on Sunday to tackle the migrant crisis in the western Balkans. Thousands trying to reach Germany are already trapped there in deteriorating conditions.

“We carry out our obligations, we are in solidarity with all of Europe,” Ponta said. “But the responsibility cannot be put with just some countries.

“If there are countries which close their borders, or build fences, then we have the right to defend ourselves in a timely manner.”

Romania’s neighbor Hungary has built a fence to keep out migrants and closed its border with Croatia, prompting Slovenia to consider following suit with its own fence.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has invited to Sunday’s mini-summit the heads of state or government of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia, plus key organizations involved.

The aim of the meeting is to agree “common operational conclusions which could be immediately implemented”.

It comes as crowds of refugees and other migrants camp by roads in western Balkan countries in worsening autumn weather after Hungary sealed its borders, causing a chain reaction in other overwhelmed states.

“It is important for the people to know that it is not a problem to register (refugees), or build bigger centers, nothing of this is a problem for Serbia,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters.

“But if someone thinks that we can be the place for two or three million refugees: this is unrealistic.”

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Catherine Evans

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