Refugees stranded at Macedonian-Greek border as new restrictions enforced

By bne IntelliNews February 24, 2016

Some 1,000 migrants are stranded on the Greek side of the border unable to cross into Macedonia, after Skopje tightened restrictions for migrants from Afghanistan, the UNHCR said on February 23.

The Macedonian restrictions followed a similar move by the Serbian authorities in mid February. On February 12 Austria also asked Macedonia to be ready to completely halt the flow of migrants through its border with Greece and offered support for such a move. The Macedonian army has started to reinforce the fence at Gevgelija crossing point with Greece.

Following the new restrictions from Macedonia, the Greek police have launched an operation to move migrants from the border to reception centers in Thessaloniki and Athens, broadcaster Nova TV reported. A fight broke out at the Greek border on February 22, when some refugees were prevented from crossing into Macedonia.

About 1,200 refugees, most of them from Afghanistan, were also stranded at the Macedonian-Serbian border crossing point Tabanovce on February 22 after Serbia stopped receiving refugees from Afghanistan.

Officials from the Macedonian interior ministry were not available for comment.

Meanwhile, on February 23 the UN refugee agency raised concerns that recent restrictive practices adopted in a number of European countries, including Macedonia, are placing additional hardships on refugees and asylum-seekers across Europe, creating chaos at several border points, and putting particular pressure on Greece as it struggles to deal with large numbers of people in need of accommodation and services.

According to the UNHCR, on February 17, Austria set a daily limit of 3,200 people to enter its territory and announced it will only accept 80 new asylum applications per day, with Slovenia following suit by announcing similar measures.

On February 18, the police chiefs of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia issued a statement announcing their agreement to jointly profile and register refugees and asylum-seekers at the Macedonian-Greek border.

The domino effect of these measures has already resulted in a buildup of asylum-seekers and migrants in Greece and in Macedonia, where nearly 700 people, mostly Afghan nationals, have been barred from entering Serbia, the UNHCR said.

However, the UNHCR said it is making good progress in providing accommodation for 20,000 asylum-seekers in Greece with the aim of stabilising the situation and reducing irregular secondary movements.

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