Austria organises second conference for Western Balkans – Greece receives invitation

Austria organises second conference for Western Balkans – Greece receives invitation

Athens, June 10, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Spiros Sideris

The organisation of the second conference in Vienna on the Western Balkans, on the refugee crisis at the level of Foreign and Interior Ministers, to which this time – unlike the first, last February – Greece will be invited, plans for mid-July the Austrian government.

As said Thursday the Austrian Interior Minister, Wolfgang Sobotka, the Conference should ensure that “the Balkan Route remains closed”.

Before that, a meeting of the leaders of the border guards is scheduled for June 21, in which have been invited both the countries of the Western and Eastern Balkans, as well as Austria, Greece and Germany, followed on June 30 by the meeting in Vienna of the Heads Police of these countries.

In the controversial conference of last February – which, due to its extra-institutional character had caused strong protests not only in Athens but also in Brussels and Berlin -had been decided the closure of the Balkan Route, which resulted in thousands of refugees being trapped in Greece, especially on the border with FYROM, with all the tragic events of the last three months.

During his speech to the Greek parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had said at the time that it was unacceptable on the part of Austria, a country with a long history in the European Union, to convene “para-conferences” for the refugees issue, without the participation of the countries that are directly concerned, observing that “admittedly the refugee problem can not be solved without cooperation of the EU Member States, especially those directly affected”.

In his particularly rigorous criticism of this behavior, the Greek prime minister had pointed out that “Greece can not but demand from now on, by our partners to behave responsibly, just as we responsibly behave in a crisis which has burdened a small country with a weight greater than it deserves”.

The Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurtz, rejecting reactions of Greece for its non-invitation to the Conference – which had been expressed both with a demarche and the withdrawal later in Athens for consultations of the ambassador of Greece to Austria -professed, with a pinch of irony, that “I do not believe that we lack common events in our Europe, what we lack is the will to clearly limit the refugee flow”.

According to the then claims of the head of Austrian diplomacy, “the Greek side has shown no willingness to date to reduce refugee flows, but was interested only in as far as possible further transfer of the refugees”.

Recently, just last Sunday, in an interview the Austrian Foreign Minister asked the European Union to adopt the “Australian model” in the refugee issue and the conversion of Lesvos and the Lampedusa to refugee detention camps, which caused a storm of protest from many sides.

Reacting strongly, the mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos said that Kurtz’s proposals “represent for us a declaration of war and we will not allow Lesvos to become a second Alcatraz, but will resist with all means”.

According to the mayor of Lesbos, “the proposals of the Austrian Foreign Minister, is unacceptable, insulting and slander my island, convert Lesbos and Greece to a souls warehouse, while his ideas betray complete ignorance and logical incoherence”, as Mr Kurt from the one hand warns of blackmail by Turkey and on the other wants to send back there the ‘illegal immigrants'”, as he calls them.