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Poklukar: Migration situation in the EU and the region can only be addressed by searching for solutions together

The Salzburg Forum ministerial meeting continued today, 7 November 2019, in Vienna, in the presence of ministers from the Western Balkan countries and Moldova. Participants’ discussions again focused on migration and the fight against people smuggling.

The conclusions of today’s debate were presented at a press conference, which was also attended by the Minister of Interior Boštjan Poklukar. He emphasised the importance of regional cooperation: “The Salzburg Forum is an important form of regional integration and cooperation, where countries can discuss the most topical issues and challenges in the area of home affairs.” The Western Balkan countries also took part in today’s discussion, which is very important from Slovenia’s point of view. “The Western Balkans are of strategic importance for Slovenia. Therefore it is only right that these countries have an opportunity to tell us about the challenges they are facing and together we try to find the best solutions.”

The central topics of today’s discussions were migration and the fight against people smuggling – issues faced by virtually all the countries. “The fight against migrant smuggling is one of the priorities of the Slovenian police. And we are quite effective at it since we have apprehended nearly 400 migrants this year. We are working together with the law enforcement authorities of other countries,” said the Minister and went on to present the migration situation in Slovenia. Irregular border crossings have been steadily increasing (so far this year there have been 14,000, which is almost a 70% increase compared to last year). The number of international protection applications has also gone up (this year 3,500 applications have been lodged, which is a considerable increase compared to last year, when just under 2,900 applications were lodged in the entire year). The Minister pointed out that despite challenging circumstances, Slovenia effectively protects its external Schengen border and there is no reason for concern. Slovenia is a credible partner of the Schengen Area and we intend to make every effort for it to remain one in the future.

“Today’s meeting proves that the migration situation in the EU and the region can only be addressed if we search for solutions together. And that we are truly prepared to do it. Partial answers, such as reintroduction of border controls, are not a step in the right direction. What we need is comprehensive solutions, including increased integration and cooperation, strengthened external borders of the EU and more effective returns,” concluded Poklukar.

At the margins of the conference there was also a meeting of border police chiefs of all the countries participating at the ministerial conference. There some arrangements to improve operational cooperation were adopted, which was confirmed by the Ministers at the conference. Minister Poklukar expressed his satisfaction that “concrete arrangements were adopted” and the arrangement on concrete steps to improve the overview of the situation in the region is of key importance. “A complete picture of illegal migration in the region is the basis for planning and taking appropriate and effective measures.”

The Ministers all agreed that adequate border control is the precondition for the situation in the region to improve. The Ministers from the Western Balkan countries pointed out that the majority of migrants enter their countries from EU Member States, therefore securing the EU external border is essential. Even countries that had not devoted a lot of attention to EU external border control in the past, such as particularly Germany, emphasised it as the prerequisite for any other decisions, including the one on the Dublin Regulation and Schengen. The Ministers also agreed to continue meeting in this format, which back in 2016 was instrumental in closing the Western Balkan migration route.