Macedonia maintains migrant policy despite protests

Macedonia maintains migrant policy despite protests
By bne IntelliNews November 24, 2015

Skopje has indicated it will not change its decision to allow passage only to refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan despite a protest by at least 2,000 asylum seekers stranded at the Greece-Macedonia border.

The four countries on the main migration route via the Balkans - Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia - have all closed their borders to most migrants, while allowing through those from the three war torn countries. This has resulted in chaos and anger as thousands have been turned back or stranded at international borders.

There are reports from Greece’s northern border with Macedonia that migrants from Morocco, Iran, Pakistan and other nations are blocking rail traffic by lying on the railway lines. Some are on hunger strike, sewing their mouths shut in a desperate appeal to be allowed to go on to Western Europe.

However, migrants from these countries are considered economic and have been denied entry into the country.

In a November 24 statement, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned of a “fresh humanitarian situation” at border crossings from Greece into the Balkans due to “new and uncoordinated restrictions”.

According to the UNHCR, as of November 24 around 1,000 people were stuck at the main entry point into Macedonia from Greece.

The previous day, Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Poposki told ambassadors from EU member states and the EU delegation in Skopje that the country will be unable to allow entry to economic migrants, especially in view of the fact that several EU countries have adopted similar decisions. The minister also said that the Greek ambassador has confirmed that the people stranded at the border with Macedonia will be moved without the use of force in order to not obstruct the main migrant flow.

On November 19, Slovenia was the first country in the chain of four ex-Yugoslavia countries on the so-called Balkan route that announced that it would no longer allow economic migrants to cross from neighboring Croatia. On the same day, Croatia, as well as Serbia and Macedonia, closed their borders to all migrants except those from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan explaining that it was because the next country in the chain had done the same.

"The negative consequences of these actions are already becoming clear as people become backed up in countries along the route and without proper solution to their situations," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a media briefing in Geneva according to a statement from the organisation.

Refugees suddenly flooded into Slovenia when the Hungarian government decided to close its border with Serbia in mid October. Bad weather conditions, as well as Russian air strikes in Syria, further increased the numbers.

Since then, over 256,475 refugees and migrants have entered Slovenia including almost 90,000 from Syria, the state secretary at the interior ministry, Bostjan Sefic, announced on November 23. This is a heavy burden for the country, which warned that it can barely handle 2,500 people per day.

In neighbouring Croatia, nearly 441,000 migrants have arrived since the beginning of the migrant crisis and new arrivals from Serbia are expected, according to the most recent data from the interior ministry. Croatia announced at the end of last week it will stop allowing economic migrants to enter its territory, and will receive and register only refugees from Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan.

“In the last few days, we have seen a constant decline in the number of migrants entering Croatia. However, until a few days ago we had a continuous increase," Domagoj Dzigumovic, spokesman for the Vukovar-Srijem Police Department, said on November 22, according to Total Croatia News.

Croatian interior minister Ranko Ostojic said on November 23 that the transit of refugees through Croatia was proceeding without difficulties and that there was no problem with stopping the flow of economic migrants who make up only 1.6% of all migrants, according to Hina news agency.

Serbia has also closed its borders to most migrants, with labour and social affairs minister Aleksandar Vulin confirming that the border was closed to "migrants coming from countries that Croatia and Slovenia have decided could not enjoy their hospitality."

"We need to protect our country and that is why we implemented reciprocal measures toward those that Croatia and Slovenia have no place for. We will not allow anyone to enter Serbia who cannot continue their journey. We are not a country where they [migrants and refugees] come to stay, they are only passing through Serbia, and that will remain so," said Vulin.

On November 21, Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic said that while Belgrade is ready to help its neighbours, it is waiting for a comprehensive solution of the issue of refugees at the EU level.

"Serbia cannot accept that one rule applies to our country, and other rules apply for the rest," he said.