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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Central European leaders are ready to help Balkan countries seal their borders with Greece to stem the flow of migrants across the continent, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told Reuters on Sunday.

Despite objections from regional powerhouse Germany, which says it would make the situation in Greece more difficult, the so-called Visegrad group will debate the plans on Monday at a summit hosted by Sobotka.

He said the European Union’s agreements with Turkey to reduce the flow of refugees and migrants crossing to Greece to flee war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa had so far not yielded satisfactory results and time was running out.

“The current situation when up to 3,000 people come to Greece every day certainly is not what we had in mind,” he said in emailed answers to Reuters questions.

“The Visegrad Four (V4) realizes how important it is to focus on the west Balkan route and show solidarity with the west Balkan countries and help them with protection of their borders.”

“Already now policemen from V4 countries are helping on the Macedonian border, we are prepared to strengthen our aid if needed,” he said.

The Visegrad group is made up of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, and the Prague meeting will be also attended by the leaders of Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Sobotka said he would discuss the plans with the Greek foreign minister on Tuesday, ahead of an EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

The central European countries, with the exception of Hungary, have so far not seen any significant numbers of migrants, but they fear they could be swamped as well if Europe’s external borders stay leaky, or if Germany were to close its own borders.

Germany believes sealing Balkan borders with Greece could undermine its approach focused on making the agreement with Turkey work and would lead to accumulation of refugees in Greece, a country already under huge strain.

Sobotka said Europe needed to adopt a range of other measures to reduce the migration flow, including urging Turkey to prevent human traffickers from taking more and more migrants to Greece from its western coast.

He also called on other EU members to better coordinate returning unsuccessful asylum seekers to their country of origin.

“Europe must have migration policy that will have clear and enforceable rules, including the ability to stop economic migration on EU’s external borders,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alison Williams)

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