SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The European Union must seal its external borders to deter migrants who are no longer welcome in the wealthy 27-member bloc, Interior Minister Ales Hojs of Slovenia, which currently presides over the EU, said on Thursday.
Speaking at an international conference on migration in Sarajevo, Hojs said European interior ministers had been preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, a migrant crisis which he said was hybrid war waged by Belarus against the EU's eastern borders, and the fall of the government in Afghanistan.
"All three have additionally contributed to the increase in numbers of illegal migrants moving towards Europe and the Balkans, destabilising the European Union," Hojs told reporters.
European countries accuse Belarus of flying thousands of migrants in from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to cross the frontier illegally. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis but says it can help resolve it if the EU lifts sanctions it imposed after a crackdown on protests last year.
Hojs compared the present situation with the influx of refugees and migrants in 2015, when the EU accepted about a million people fleeing war in Syria, but said there was now a big difference: "There is no more 'Refugees Welcome'".
He said Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko was waging a "hybrid war" and that the EU would not allow anyone to use migrants for political purposes.
Hojs said talks with Lukashenko had not yielded visible results yet but he believed the crisis would be over in spring when Poland completes the process of sealing its borders.
"I believe that external borders must be secured, even with fences if necessary," Hojs said, adding that he supported an initiative under which the EU should finance building fences on its external borders.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Giles Elgood)