• publish: 23 February 2016
  • time: 11:36 am
  • category: International
  • No: 3426

Macedonian fences block thousands of Afghan migrants from crossing from Greece

Dozens of desperate migrants have been risking their lives by trying to scramble across razor wire border fences in Greece after Macedonia refused to accept Afghan refugees. 

Athens today vowed to take action against Macedonia after Skopje’s decision which left more than 8,000 stranded in Greece and created further tension on the border.

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The Macedonian government has blamed Serbia for doing the same on its border with Macedonia, while Serbia said the decision had been made by Austria and Slovenia at the top end of the Balkan corridor.

It came after Austria introduced a daily cap of just 80 asylum seekers, triggering a domino effect along the so-called Balkan migrant route.

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Germany today lashed out at Vienna’s decision to impose a cap while letting thousands of others pass through, branding the move ‘unacceptable’.

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There are fears the unilateral controls and daily caps could trigger a domino effect along the Balkan migrant trail and leave thousands stranded in Greece, the entry point into the EU for many.

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Greece said today it was taking diplomatic action to persuade Macedonia to accept Afghan migrants after thousands were stranded at its border and main port.

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‘We have begun diplomatic moves… we believe the problem will be resolved,’ junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas told parliamentary television, without elaborating.

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Some 5,000 refugees are stuck at the border with Macedonia after the neighbouring state on Sunday refused to allow passage to Afghans, police said.

Another 3,000 people were blocked in Athens after landing at the port of Piraeus from the Aegean islands, a government source said, adding that officials were scrambling to find room for them.

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‘We do not expect a (diplomatic) solution today,’ the source said, adding: ‘We will accommodate the Afghans while trying to prevent overcrowding at any of the facilities available.’

Macedonian authorities reportedly said that Serbia has done the same on its southern border with Macedonia.

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Serbia says the decision to block refugees from Afghanistan from passing through the so-called Balkan migrant corridor has been made by Austria and Slovenia.

Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Sunday that ‘everyone can move in accordance with the rules set by Austria and Slovenia.’

He added that ‘the Serbian state does not decide who can pass through its territory without consulting the states up the migrant route.’

Vulin insists that Serbia’s ‘borders are open, Serbia has not closed its borders with Macedonia or Bulgaria in any way.’

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Since November, countries on the Balkan route have allowed only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans to continue their journey northwards towards Germany, Sweden and other European nations where they plan to apply for asylum.

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‘We are making preparations so that even if the problem is not resolved, if there is a violation of European decisions by Serbia and Skopje, to be able to manage the problem that will be created in Greece,’ Mouzalas said.

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It came as German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere branded Austria’s decision to allow just 80 migrants in each day ‘unacceptable’ and said it sends out ‘the wrong signal’ to the rest of Europe.

Berlin fears many of these migrants are heading straight for Germany, where tensions are on the rise after the country saw an influx of over a million asylum seekers last year, putting huge pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy.

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‘It won’t work if some countries think they can solve the problem by putting extra weight on Germany’s back,’ de Maiziere told ARD public television, accusing Vienna of failing to carry out adequate checks on those being let through.

Despite strong objections from the European Union, Austria on Friday introduced a daily limit of 80 migrants who are allowed to claim asylum while allowing 3,200 migrants a day to transit through.

‘Even for security reasons, this is unacceptable.

‘We won’t allow this to continue long term,’ de Maiziere said, adding that he intended to bring up the issue at the next gathering of EU interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

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Many were economic migrants from Morocco, Iran and Pakistan, police said. Unlike Syrians, they are unlikely to be granted asylum in Europe and face deportation.

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About 300,000 refugees passed through Hungary last year, before right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban sealed off the southern borders with razor wire and fences in September and October.

The measures – together with tight border patrols and tough new laws punishing illegal entry and vandalism of the fences – slowed the flow to a trickle with only around a dozen people a day attempting to cross.

Since September, 1,325 people have been charged with crimes under the new legislation, the vast majority served with expulsion orders.

The move by EU countries to impose border controls further jeopardises Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel zone.

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Underscoring the urgency of the issue, Mr de Maiziere said member states must agree a common approach within two weeks if they wanted to prevent the system collapsing.

In addition to being a devastating symbolic setback for Europe, a collapse of Schengen would increase the amount of time it takes for goods to be transported across European borders, raising costs for companies and consumers.

A study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation revealed it could cost the EU up to €1.4trillion over the next decade.

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