Refugees spend another night outside on Macedonian border, UNHCR urges action

Published 24.11.2015 23:49
Updated 24.11.2015 23:54

Hundreds of migrants are stuck on the border after Skopje last week imposed restrictions limiting passage to those fleeing conflict zones. Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees are allowed through but those deemed economic migrants - mainly people from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh - are blocked. They spent another night outside stuck on the Macedonian-Greek border on Monday night, trying to warm up around fires, the BBC reported yesterday.

At least five migrants stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border on Monday sewed their lips in protest at not being allowed to continue their journey to Europe, AFP reporters said. The men, who say they are from Iran and are threatening to go on hunger strike, have been camping on the tracks of the railroad between the two countries since Friday. One of them wrote "only freedom" on his chest while two others wrote "Iran" on their chest and forehead.

Despite colder weather, refugees continue to arrive in Greece in the hope of reaching prosperous EU nations such as Germany and Sweden. The United Nations decried restrictions on refugees yesterday, saying about 1,000 refugees are stuck at the main crossing point into Macedonia from Greece as authorities deny entry to some nationalities in contravention of international law. "A new humanitarian situation is developing in Europe that needs urgent attention," Adrian Edwards of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told a news briefing.

"The new restrictions chiefly involve people being profiled on the basis of their claimed nationalities," he said. At the borders between Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and between Macedonia and Serbia, nationals of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are being allowed to cross.

Nationals of other countries are being stopped, leading to protests by about 200 people, mainly Iranians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, with some on hunger strike, Edwards said. "All people have the right to seek asylum, irrespective of their nationality and to have their individual cases heard. Proper information needs to be provided to people affected by decisions at border points, and proper counselling needs to be available," he said.

UNHCR had no information that the new restrictions were directly linked to the Paris attacks 10 days ago that killed 130 people and were claimed by DAESH, he said. "The environment has significantly worsened for people seeking asylum and that is a concern," he said.

About 858,805 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe so far this year by sea, primarily to Greece and Italy, while 3,548 have died or gone missing, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Only 148 refugees have been relocated to other European Union countries - Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden, Edwards said.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and poverty have travelled to Greece and up through the Balkans this year, aiming to start new lives in more prosperous northern European countries, with Germany the preferred destination for many.

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