Influx of refugees into EU continues

The flow of Syrians, Afghans and others through the Balkans toward western Europe continued unabated as European leaders gathered in Brussels to try and work out a plan to deal with the massive influx of asylum seekers.

At the Brezice camp in Slovenia near the border with Croatia, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency urged leaders to come up with a system to register and screen newcomers when they first enter Europe, rather than piecemeal along the way. “But also very important is to help Syria’s neighbouring countries where there are around four million refugees,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch. “These people don’t need to take these risky journeys if there are legal pathways to come to Europe.”

The leaders of EU members Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia were invited to the Brussels summit along with two non-members, Macedonia and Serbia. Nearly 250,000 migrants have passed through the Balkans since mid-September.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s priority is to defeat “terrorists” before holding elections, but he is ready to call parliamentary and presidential polls if necessary, a Russian lawmaker who met him said. The remarks are a first indication of Assad’s response to a call by his Russian allies for new presidential and parliamentary elections, as Moscow tries to use its clout with Damascus to end almost five years of conflict in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has launched air strikes against Assad’s opponents in Syria, called for the elections. Assad visited Moscow last week on his first known trip outside Syria since the start of the conflict that is estimated to have killed 250,000 people.

The Syrian state news agency SANA made no mention of elections in its account of Assad’s meeting yesterday with a visiting Russian delegation. Asked after the meeting whether Assad was ready for early elections, Russian parliamentary deputy Sergey Gavrilov said his impression was“the first aim (of Assad is) the struggle with and victory over ... terrorism, and after that the elections – parliamentary and president elections”.

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