Responding to the Refugee Crisis: Legal and Security Implications for the Western Balkans

This blog was re-posted from United Macedonian Diaspora’s website (see original here).

On Tuesday, October 13, 2015, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) convened a timely panel discussion, “Responding to the Refugee Crisis: Legal and Security Implications for the Western Balkans,” which is the largest refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II. The event was held as part of Global Diaspora Week, a week-long celebration of diaspora communities and their contributions to global development.

The panel featured Macedonian Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Vasko Naumovski, Serbian Ambassador to the United States, Djerdj Matkovic, UMD President, Metodija A. Koloski, and Niki Dasarathy, Senior Advisor in ABA ROLI’s Middle East and North Africa Division, and was moderated by Ashley Martin, Senior Program Manager in ABA ROLI’s Europe and Eurasia Division.

Photo courtesy of ABA ROLI.

Photo courtesy of ABA ROLI.

Ambassadors Naumovski and Matkovic commented on their country’s responses to the ongoing refugee crisis that is affecting the Balkans and expressed the need for a unified and more decisive response from the European Union in dealing with the crisis. Macedonia and Serbia are both facing an increasing number of refugees entering the countries daily; for the last few weeks numbers have reached five to seven thousand refugees per day. The numbers began escalating in June, and since then over 140,000 refugees have entered Macedonia, almost all through Greece. As Macedonia and Serbia are only transit countries, most refugees do not remain in the Balkans. Ambassador Matkovic stated that of the tens of thousands of refugees that enter Serbia, only approximately 600 have formally requested asylum. These numbers are similar in Macedonia.

Both Serbia and Macedonia are dealing with increasing costs associated with the crisis and very little assistance from the EU to deal with the financial burden. Serbia is spending more than €20,000 per day only on food and water for the refugees and seeing even higher costs for registration and transportation. Ambassador Matkovic said, “the burden we bare in this crisis is becoming increasingly difficult.” Serbia has spends an approximately €500,000 per month setup and maintain refugee crisis centers. Ambassador Naumovski echoed this sentiment. At the same time, Macedonia is spending over $100,000 per day on the increased number of border control personnel that have been hired to register refugees as they enter the country from Greece.

Niki Dasarathy spoke about the legal needs of Syrians living in Turkey and the efforts of the ABA ROLI in Turkey to assist Syrians currently residing there. Turkey currently has approximately two million refugees registered in the country. ABA ROLI is training and building the capacity of Turkish lawyers to aid Syrians in understanding the rights that they have within their host country and how to access legal help.

Photo courtesy of ABA ROLI.

Photo courtesy of ABA ROLI.

UMD President Metodija Koloski spoke on the necessity of a unified response from the EU and US to deal not only with the ongoing refugee crisis in South East Europe but also with the underlying causes of the crisis in the Middle East, whether through political or other means. Koloski commented on the need for increased funding from the EU to aid the non-member countries at the forefront of the crisis. Macedonia has received less aid than other neighboring states. Ambassador Matkovic stated that he believed that as a part of a common response from the EU, the funding for each state affected by the crisis should be more equal because while Serbia is a larger and more populous state, both it and Macedonia are seeing nearly equal numbers of refugees.

The overall message from the panelists was clear. The crisis has given no indication that its escalation will slow in the near future. A unified response from the EU and US is needed to find a solution to one of the worst humanitarian crises that the world has faced. Koloski closed his comments with the statement that “Resolution of the current crisis is viable only if responsibility is shared. No single country can rely solely on its own resources to solve a problem as complex as this.”

UMD extends special thanks to ABA ROLI staff, especially Ashley Martin and Zlata Unerkova, and UMD’s own International Policy Fellow Gavin Kopel for their work in organizing and promoting this event.