June 23. 2024. 12:50

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Danish PM calls for ‘open’ EU asylum system discussion during Croatia trip

The responsibility to protect the EU’s external borders must be shared by all EU countries, said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as she visited the country that recently joined the Schengen visa-free area on Tuesday, meeting with her Croatian counterpart, Andrej Plenkovic.

Earlier in the day, Frederiksen visited Croatia’s national border control headquarters NCC. She was accompanied by Croatia’s Interior Minister, Davor Bozinovic.

Croatia, which joined the EU’s passport-free travel Schengen Area in January this year, maintains a 1,350-kilometre-long bloc’s external land border to the east. More than three-quarters of the total length is with Bosnia and Herzegovina, while smaller portions are shared with Serbia and Montenegro.

The border with Bosnia is on the so-called Western Balkans route used by migrants travelling towards Western Europe. Croatia’s authorities warned recently that a fresh surge of migrants arriving on the route, mostly hailing from the Middle East, is “fast approaching 2015 and 2016 levels” when estimates say more than 1 million people arrived in Europe in the greatest migration after World War II.

Frederiksen, who became Denmark’s youngest-ever prime minister in June 2019 as the leader of the centre-left Social Democrats, is known for wanting to reform the EU’s asylum system as she espouses a tougher stance on immigration than her predecessors.

“We must prevent a new great migration crisis,” Frederiksen was quoted as saying by the Croatian state news agency Hina.

The current asylum system “makes people risk their lives on a perilous journey towards Europe,” the Danish leader added.

The system also “attracts too many people who don’t really need asylum protection,” she went on, adding that Europe “must openly discuss” new solutions to tackle the issue of migrations.

Plenkovic, meanwhile, commented that his conservative government has made “a political choice” against erecting barriers or wire fences on its eastern borders, and instead decided to manage the border using manpower and surveillance drones. Croatia employs some 6,500 border police officers – nearly five per every land border kilometre.

According to Interior Ministry data from November 2022, at least 36,000 migrants entered Croatia through irregular means last year, a 145% increase from the year before.

While most include nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Syria, they use Croatia as a stepping stone towards wealthier EU member states, as Croatia receives a comparatively low number of official asylum applications.

According to figures published by the humanitarian NGO Refugees Welcome on Tuesday, Denmark had received 4,591 asylum requests in 2022, with “almost half” of them being Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland – about four times fewer compared to the peak of the migrant crisis in 2015 when Denmark registered more than 21,000 requests.

(David Spaic-Kovacic | EURACTIV.hr)