Ilir Tsouko

The Balkan Route

The Balkan Route

The Balkan Route was practically the only channel enabling the two-year migrant influx into Europe. Of the near-million refugees that reached Germany in 2015, 800,000 of them passed through the Route (UNHCR 2015). Of those, 600,000 were registered at Preševo Center in Serbia, the rest preceded or bypassed it (UNHCR Belgrade Office 2015). The overemphasized alternative routes—from north Africa into Italy, France, or Spain—accounted for a minor share of the overall influx in this period. The overwhelming majority of refugees entering Europe did so through the Balkan Route.

The Route consists—in sequence from Turkey—of Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia. These are bridge countries, as opposed to destination countries (primarily Germany). For the first six months of the period in question, the Route continued into Hungary from Serbia. As the Viktor Mihály Orbán government pioneered militarization of its southern border, the Route adapted to bypass Hungary by turning westward into Croatia and Slovenia.

It is noteworthy that Hungary’s posture towards refugees was initially ubiquitously condemned by the very EU states that followed Orbán’s lead in later months. Some even exceeded Hungary’s egregious border management. As noted below, Europe has not only failed to adapt to the dynamic influx of migrants in this period, but it has made a risky journey riskier and deadlier for refugees.

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