International
Srdjan Zivulovic / Reuters

Slovenia erects fence as EU-Africa summit seeks refugee solutions

Construction of fence comes as EU leaders planned to offer African leaders $2 billion in aid at Malta summit

Slovenia on Wednesday began erecting a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia to control the influx of refugees as European and African leaders gathered in Malta to seek long-term solutions to the flow of people making their way across Europe. EU leaders are expected to offer their African counterparts nearly $2 billion in aid to help tackle the crisis.

A convoy of bulldozers and army trucks carrying fencing arrived in Veliki Obrez in Slovenia on Wednesday, and soldiers began unwinding the spirals of wire and stretching them along the Sutla River, which divides Slovenia and Croatia. Other units were later seen farther southwest, near the town of Gibina, also stretching and stacking coils of razor wire.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said Tuesday that his country expected about 30,000 new refugees to reach Slovenia's borders. His government fears that if neighboring Austria restricts their entry, the number of people who would be stranded in Slovenia would be too much for the tiny state to handle.

"If we don't act on time," he said, "this could cause a humanitarian catastrophe on the territory of Slovenia." He said the "technical barrier" would be used to direct the refugee flow, not to close the 400-mile border.

The construction of the fence comes as EU leaders planned to offer African leaders aid funds at a summit in Malta on Wednesday. The European Commission, the 28-nation executive arm of the EU, is setting up a $1.9 billion trust fund for Africa and has urged member states to match that sum. The money would go to tackling the causes of the migration, such as poverty and conflict. 

While the majority of those seeking asylum are believed to be fleeing Syria’s civil war, a significant number of refugees in Europe come from Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan. Africans account for just under a quarter of the nearly 800,000 refugees who have reached Europe so far this year.

However, many of those seeking asylum have yet to be processed. According to the European Asylum Support Office, applications were on hold in the month of September. The EU's asylum system is so overwhelmed with applications that it could take a year to clear the backlog even if refugees stopped arriving, the office said Tuesday.

Currently, the EU is able to process only about 60,000 cases per month, the office said. Almost a third of applicants — more than 200,000 — have been waiting for at least six months for their claims to be processed, in a trend the office called "worrying."

The Malta summit on Wednesday was a rare gathering of about 50 leaders from the two continents amid the EU’s quest for a joint strategy to deal with the biggest flow of refugees in Europe since World War II.

But Slovenia's move to erect the border fence underlined the divisions within the EU over how to respond to the crisis.

After Hungary sealed its borders to undocumented immigrants last month, Slovenia found itself on the main Balkan route for the thousands of asylum seekers landing in Greece every day after making the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey.

Bureaucrats in Brussels, who pushed for the Malta summit, oppose fences, arguing that they simply redirect the flow of people and undermine efforts for a joint solution.

Calls for an EU-Africa summit arose months ago, when the Mediterranean route from a lawless Libya was still the main springboard for people traveling to the EU in battered fishing boats and flimsy dinghies. 

To counter the continued arrival of refugees, EU officials have floated the idea of establishing offshore reception centers where people would be subject to fingerprinting and identity checks before being granted entry to the EU.

African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma spoke out against the idea Wednesday, saying that such centers would absolve European countries of their responsibility to resettle people in accordance with international humanitarian law and that the facilities would pose dangers for women and children.

She said that such facilities would "become de facto detention centers." She hit out at some European countries that "have taken a fortress approach" to the crisis.

Amnesty International's Iverna McGowan also raised fears that the summit would reinforce the idea of a Fortress Europe, telling Agence France-Presse the approach "can lead to an outsourcing of human rights abuses and is quite worrying." 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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Places
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Refugees

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