Europe split over closing Greek borders to migrants

Jessica Hartogs, special to CNBC

The leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are meeting Monday to discuss a controversial plan to build a fence in order to stop migrants from entering southern Europe and traveling on through the rest of the region.

Also known as the Visegard (V4) group, representatives of the four countries are holding an informal meeting - ahead of an important European Union (EU) summit Thursday and Friday - to discuss a plan to build a razor-wire fence and close Macedonia and Bulgaria's borders with Greece, effectively blocking the country from the rest of Europe and signaling the end of the Schengen zone, Europe's 26-nation passport-free travel region.

In 2015, over a million people reached Europe's shores -- nearly half of them Syrians fleeing a civil war that is entering its fifth year.

However, anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiment has grown in the past few months, mainly in Central and Southern Europe.

Immigrant minors peer out through the fence of an immigrant detention center in the village of Filakio, on the Greek-Turkish border.
Sakis Mitrolidis | AFP | Getty Images

With the exception of Hungary, Central European countries have not accepted any significant number of migrants. The Poles, Czechs and Slovaks have only accepted a small number of mostly Christians from Syria.

Macedonia first put up a fence to block migrants in November, and is in the process of building a second one.

Germany has been the main destination for most of the migrants once they land in Greece, but the Central European countries fear they could be swamped if Germany were to close its own borders.

The Visegrad nations say it is impossible to integrate Muslims into their societies, frustrating many Western officials given the huge numbers of Eastern Europeans who have received refuge and economic opportunity in the West for decades, reports the Associated Press.

1 million migrants arrived in Europe in 2015: UN

The anti-Islam PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West ) movement staged protests across Europe last week, with a refugee center in Prague torched by Molotov cocktails, injuring one.

And this past weekend, after the EU requested that Greece build 'hotspots' or refugees centers, to process the surge of migrants arriving on the chain of islands facing the Turkish coast, Greek police clashed violently with protesters on the island of Kos outside one of the construction sites for these hotspots, reported The Telegraph.

Slovenia announced Sunday that it is clamping down on the number of migrants it will allow to enter the country. Austria, also hardening its stance in recent weeks, is expected to announce a daily cap on the number of migrants allowed to enter the country via its main border crossing with Slovenia, according to the AFP.

The EU meetings in Brussels this week promise to be strained - with both migration and the Brexit, the possibility of Britain exiting the EU – on the agenda.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
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