THE FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA: Calm at the border but uncertain fate for refugees and asylum-seekers’ onward journey

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29 Aug 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

Almost all the people stuck at the Greek border in the last three days, including many Syrian and Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers, have safely crossed into Macedonia bringing a temporary calm to the tense situation there in recent days, said Amnesty International.

The situation in Gevgelija, a Macedonian town near the border is currently quiet. Between 80 and 100 refugees and asylum-seekers were present at the train station there this afternoon. Refugees and asylum-seekers are reportedly being slowly allowed to board trains heading to the northern border with Serbia. Some were boarding buses which they have to pay for. Police are present in the area but the situation is calm.

“It may seem as if the latest crisis has been averted since the situation on the border appears quiet now, but hundreds of people, including many families, pregnant women and small children, who have crossed into Macedonia now face an uncertain fate. Some are sick and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, it’s unclear whether all of them will get the help and care they need,” said Giorgos Kosmopoulous, Director of Amnesty International Greece, who is on Macedonia’s southern border with Greece.

“For many people this border crossing is just one step along a very long and difficult journey to another destination within Europe – the crisis may have moved on but it’s far from over. There are several more boats carrying refugees and asylum seekers reported to have arrived on the Greek islands. The key question now is: how will the Macedonian authorities respond to new arrivals of refugees and asylum-seekers who attempt the same border crossings in the coming days?”

Background information

Thousands of mainly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers are trapped and face a serious risk of violence after Macedonian authorities sealed the country’s southern border on Thursday, creating a new crisis zone amid the global refugee crisis, Amnesty International said.

The situation rapidly deteriorated when the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia) declared two border areas “crisis regions”, closed the southern border crossing with Greece just outside the town of Gevgelija, and called in military backup.

Amnesty International has received extremely worrying reports that an anti-terrorism police unit deployed to the border have used beatings and riot-control agents and even fired in the air to prevent people from crossing into Macedonia. Barbed wire fences have also been erected along the border.

“Every country has the power to patrol its own borders, but this kind of para-military response is an unacceptable push-back in violation of international law. Macedonian authorities are responding as if they were dealing with rioters rather than refugees who have fled conflict and persecution,” said Gauri van Gulik, Deputy Europe Director at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International was urging the Macedonian authorities to live up to its international obligations towards refugees and asylum-seekers.

23 August 2015