Mace­do­nia lets mi­grants en­ter from Greece

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY JAS­MINA MIRONSKI AND VAS­SILIS KYRIAKOULIS

More than 1,500 mostly Syr­ian refugees, trapped in a no-man’s land for three days, en­tered Mace­do­nia from Greece on Satur­day, af­ter po­lice al­lowed them to pass de­spite ear­lier try­ing to hold back the crowd us­ing stun grenades.

The dash across the bor­der was the latest dra­matic chap­ter in Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis, and came as another 3,000 mi­grants were res­cued in wa­ters off Libya — in one of the largest sin­gle­day res­cue oper­a­tions yet in the Mediter­ranean.

Some 104,000 mi­grants and refugees have landed on Ital­ian shores so far this year, while Greece has seen an in­flux of around 150,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion. More than 2,300 peo­ple have died try­ing to make the dan­ger­ous jour­ney.

On Mace­do­nia’s south­ern bor­der with Greece, po­lice had ear­lier Satur­day used stun grenades and ba­tons in re­sponse to hun­dreds of refugees try­ing to break through barbed wire fenc­ing, be­fore ap­par­ently de­cid­ing to let ev­ery­one cross into the Balkan na­tion, an AFP re­porter saw.

By late evening not a sin­gle per­son re­mained in the strip of no-man’s land at the bor­der where more than 2,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, had been stuck with­out proper shel­ter since Thurs­day.

Most of the mi­grants were headed straight for the sta­tion in the nearby town of Gevgelija in the hopes of catch­ing a train to­wards Ser­bia, from where they aim to even­tu­ally reach the Euro­pean Union to start a new life.

Mace­do­nia de­clared a state of emer­gency on Thurs­day over the in­flux at its bor­der and twice re­sorted to force to pre­vent peo­ple from en­ter­ing in re­cent days, re­sult­ing in a few light in­juries.

Thou­sands more refugees and mi­grants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are ex­pected to ar­rive in Mace­do­nia in the com­ing days af­ter be­ing fer­ried to the Greek main­land from the is­lands.

Macedonian po­lice spokesman Ivo Kotevski said po­lice did not want to use force but would seek to con­trol the flow of ar­rivals.

“We will con­tinue with re­in­forced con­trol of the bor­der ac­cord­ing to the state of emer­gency and we will (in fu­ture) al­low only a lim­ited num­ber of peo­ple into the coun­try in ac­cor­dance with the ca­pac­i­ties we have,” Kotevski told AFP by phone Satur­day.

He said no more peo­ple would be al­lowed to en­ter un­til the cur­rent group had moved on to­wards the north, “or we will have a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Mace­do­nia.”

SOS Calls to Italy

Fears of a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe also hit Italy on Satur­day af­ter the Ital­ian coast­guard was del­uged with dis­tress calls from 20 dif­fer­ent fish­ing boats and rub­ber dinghies off Libya with around 3,000 peo­ple on board.

The res­cue oper­a­tions — in­volv­ing Ital­ian navy ships, coast­guard ves­sels and a Nor­we­gian boat — ap­peared to have passed off with­out any re­ports of ca­su­al­ties.

Ital­ian po­lice mean­while said they had ar­rested six Egyp­tian na­tion­als on sus­pi­cion of peo­ple smug­gling fol­low­ing the res­cue of a stricken boat on Wed­nes­day.

Tes­ti­mony from the 432 mi­grants on board sug­gest the ves- sel had been packed with more than 10 times the num­ber of peo­ple it was de­signed for, with many pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing a num­ber of women and chil­dren, locked be­low deck.

They had each paid the traf­fick­ers 2,000 eu­ros (US$2,200) for the pas­sage from Egypt to Italy, ac­cord­ing to state­ments given to po­lice.

On board, the crew were re­ported to have de­manded fur­ther pay­ment to al­low those locked in the hold to come up tem­po­rar­ily

for air.

EU Urged to Up Sup­port

Hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions say the surge in the num­bers of peo­ple try­ing to reach Euro­pean Union coun­tries is the re­sult of con­flicts or re­pres­sion in Africa and the Mid­dle East.

They have called on Euro­pean gov­ern­ments to shoul­der more of the bur­den of ab­sorb­ing the wave of asy­lum seek­ers and to help cre­ate safer routes for them to reach Europe. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) on Fri­day ex­pressed con­cern over the sit­u­a­tion on the Greece-Mace­do­nia bor­der and urged the EU to “step up sup­port for coun­tries af­fected” by the move­ment of refugees and mi­grants in south­east­ern Europe.

Some 42,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing more than 7,000 chil­dren, have en­tered Mace­do­nia from Greece since mid-June, the gov­ern­ment in Skopje said.

On Fri­day night, the Macedonian po­lice dou­bled the barbed wire fence at the bor­der, while some of the refugees in a makeshift camp pleaded with them, shout­ing “Help us!”

“It rained and many peo­ple couldn’t pro­tect them­selves. One mother lost her daugh­ter and was call­ing for her all through the night,” said Samer Moin, a 49-year-old doc­tor from Syria who crossed from Tur­key to the Greek is­land of Halki, be­fore ar­riv­ing at the Macedonian bor­der.

In the bor­der town of Gevgelija, ex­tra trains have been laid on to deal with the spike in pas­sen­gers. It takes around four hours by train to reach Ta­banovce on Mace­do­nia’s north­ern bor­der with Ser­bia, some 180 kilo­me­ters (110 miles) away.

Once they reach Ser­bia, many mi­grants and refugees will try to make their way to Hungary, which is a ma­jor cross­ing point into the EU, although the coun­try is build­ing a four-me­ter barbed wire fence along its 175-kilo­me­ter bor­der to stop the in­flux.

AP

(1) A mi­grant boy looks out of a win­dow on board a crowded train tak­ing them to­ward Ser­bia, at the rail­way sta­tion in the south­ern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, Satur­day, Aug. 22. (2) Mi­grants sit on the train tracks and wait to cross the bor­der near a train sta­tion in Idomeni, north­ern Greece, Sun­day, Aug. 23. (3) Mi­grants dis­trib­ute food to other mi­grants at the Mo­ria camp near the town of Myti­lene on the south­east­ern Greek is­land of Les­bos, Greece, Satur­day.

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