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macedonia migrant crisis


Macedonia has announced it will close its border with Greece, effectively blocking the Balkan route north.

The decision came after Slovenia barred access to refugees transiting Macedonia. Croatia and Serbia then said they would follow suit.

Some 13,000 refugees are now stranded at the Macedonia-Greece border.

The moves come after the EU and Turkey set out a plan to ease Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.

Under the plan, still to be finalized, all refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey would be sent back. For each Syrian returned, a Syrian in Turkey would be resettled in the EU.Macedonia refugees 2016

Announcing the plan on March 7, European Council President Donald Tusk, had said there would no longer be a path to Europe for migrants.

“The days of irregular migration to Europe are over,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have travelled through Macedonia over the past year, heading north.

However, Macedonia began to limit the numbers, first to Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees, then recently to just a trickle – mainly Syrians from areas it considered conflict zones.

This created a bottleneck, with some 13,000 refugees now living in a sprawling camp at the Idomeni crossing.

Macedonia’s announcement came after Slovenia said on March 8 that it would allow in only migrants who planned to seek asylum in the country, or those with clear humanitarian needs.

Slovenian PM Miro Cerar said the country’s move meant that “the Balkan route for illegal migration no longer exists”.

Serbia then said it would close its borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria to those without valid documents.

“Bearing in mind that the new regime is implemented by a member of the European Union (Slovenia), Serbia cannot afford to become a collection centre for refugees,” it said in a statement.

Croatia announced similar measures. Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic said this was a “new phase in resolving the migrant crisis”.

Sebastian Kurz, the foreign minister of Austria, which itself has introduced caps on the number of refugees allowed through, welcomed the moves.


Macedonia has allowed some migrants to board a train north overnight, as many more remain trapped on the country’s border with Greece.

Crowds of people – many refugees from the war in Syria – are continuing to build up after Macedonian authorities sealed their southern border.

Manny refugees wish to travel through Macedonia and Serbia to reach northern Europe, via Hungary.

Large numbers, including children, spent the night in the open.

According to new reports, Macedonian security forces plan to let several hundred migrants in at a time on August 22 to coincide with train departures north towards Serbia and the rest of Europe.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

Migrants were beaten back with truncheons and riot shields by Macedonian security forces on August 21. Tear gas was fired.

Macedonia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, has declared a state of emergency to cope with the situation.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, has expressed concern for “thousands of vulnerable refugees and migrants, especially women and children, now massed on the Greek side of the border amid deteriorating conditions”.

The UNHCR urged Macedonia to “establish an orderly and protection-sensitive management of its borders” while appealing to Greece to “enhance registration and reception arrangements” on its side of the border.

It also said it had been assured by Macedonia the border “will not be closed in the future”, but did not elaborate.

Greece itself has seen almost 160,000 people landing on its shores since January, the UN estimates, with 50,000 arriving in the past month alone.

Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said all migrants had to register on entering the country and they had 72 hours to decide whether they would apply for asylum or pursue their route north.

Macedonia and its northern neighbor Serbia are not part of the European Union.

However Hungary, to the north of Serbia, is an EU member and is part of the Schengen area. This means that once in Hungary people can travel onwards throughout much of Europe (excluding Britain and Ireland) without needing to show documents at international borders.