FM Nikola Poposki's statement at the ministerial conference "Managing Migration Together" in Vienna

Distinguished participants,

I would like to thank my Austrian hosts since I believe this Conference comes in the right moment and definitely covers the right topic.

We could ascertain some good things and some less good things. Among the good ones, I would place the fact that on this subject, as is rarely the case with any other matter, we now have a Scandinavian type of cooperation on a regional level between the present countries and, in my opinion, between those who are not here today. Another good thing is that we all share the same goal on this topic and there is no room for division into humane and inhumane, good and bad or any other division because the goals is the same for everyone.

On the other hand, with regard to the less good things, we have to say that we are faced with a challenge concerning the absorption capacity of countries chosen as the final destination by the largest number of migrants and refugees in 2015, and with the state of things in 2016 as well.

We should harbor no illusion that each of the countries that have already received a certain number of migrants, including Austria which is dealing with the challenges mentioned by my Austrian colleagues, possesses a certain absorption capacity and when we reach the point of exhaustion in these countries we are going to face a serious problem.

Today we have X days left until we realize that the system can no longer function as it did last year when over 750,000 migrants passed through Macedonia, and from what I've learned from our Austrian colleagues 90,000 of them stayed in Austria, while probably around hundreds of thousands or close to a million remained in Germany. With this in mind I believe it would be best if we faced reality on the ground. If I disclose the state of things in these past 24 hours everyone will get a very clear picture on the matter.

In Macedonia, in these past 24 hours we have 700 migrants from Afghanistan waiting to enter Serbia, and some of them have been sent back from several countries located higher on the route, which means that as of today we have a reversed flow of migrants. Those moving upwards and those moving downwards. In addition, we have 600 migrants at our southern border ready to move north by train, but are still unable to do so, and on an even more serious note, we have around 5,000 migrants on the Greek side of the border who want to enter Macedonia. If we go by the book, none of them are exposed to threats to their lives or safety in Greece because, in my opinion and that of others, Greece and Macedonia are equally safe countries. But there should be no illusion that the goal of each and every one of them for swimming across the Aegean Sea was to remain at a single kilometer from the Macedonian border, but rather to reach their final destination in Western Europe.

With this picture, there is no room for dramatization or avoidance of real and existing problems. If Macedonia had a gold fish that granted wishes, we would probably wish for everything we do on the Macedonian-Greek border to be done on the Greek-Turkish border, that is to say, for matters to be closed in Greece. But we have to be fair that at the moment, for one reason or another, this is impossible or is simply not happening.

Finally I would like to mention that the cooperation we have with all the countries present here on a practical level, including the two countries of most concern to us, i.e., Serbia to the north and Greece to the south has significantly improved in comparison to 2015. We have good communication, good cooperation and this should somehow serve as proof that things can be dealt with in a single manner agreed on an European level.

None of us here have the capacity to handle this challenge on our own and we fear that in this type of problem the chain usually snaps at its weakest link, which in this case are those outside the EU. Decisions can be violated at those places. In regard to the actual recommendations, we highly appreciate the aid extended by Austria and all countries present here that are also affected by the route. We are determined to continue with the measures and we are encouraged by the fact that today most Member States confirmed their desire to assist us in this context. Lastly, one of the things that can help us is a link to the EURODAG system since this would facilitate the entire procedure which in this case should be implemented by Slovenia on its own border. It would be good if all these steps echo the decisions made in Brussels and if they are, of course, met with support from all our partners in the European Union.

Thank you.

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