The United Nations has condemned national profiling of migrants by Balkan countries, insisting that everyone has the right to claim asylum. Four Balkan countries have now shut their borders to people from nations not at war.
More than 1,000 migrants have been staging a protest at the border between Macedonia and Greece, following the decision by Macedonia last Thursday to only let migrants from three war-torn nations – Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria – across. Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia adopted the same policy on the same day, abruptly blocking off the western half of the Balkan route.
Iranians, Moroccans and Pakistanis, unable to get through, have blocked a train line on the Greek-Macedonian border, while seven men have sewn their lips shut.
According to Euronews, the United Nations has condemned the countries’ policy, with a spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) Adrian Edwards telling reporters: “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 like these at border points, and proper counselling has to be available.”
The decision to partially close the borders was first taken by Slovenia, with the other countries quickly following suit. Slovenian police spokesman Drago Menegalia said “there are increased number of persons who were recognized as pure economic migrants” entering from Croatia.
“These foreigners do not qualify for international protection,” according to EU laws, he said.
Speaking on Sunday, Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, said his government had no wish to stop those in genuine need of humanitarian protection. However, he added that Europe needed to introduce better border security measures, alluding to the discovery that a number of the terrorists who carried out the recent massacre in Paris had reached France via the Balkans by posing as asylum seekers.
Gruevski said: “The status quo is untenable and short-term recommendations do nothing to solve the problem. Macedonia knows that the only solution is European-wide expanded cooperation, real-time exchange of information and additional support so that we may ensure appropriate security and humanitarian outcomes for all involved.”
Many of the migrants at the border have been protesting loudly, chanting slogans blocking the paths of those trying to cross. Pakistani migrants have been holding up banners highlighting human rights violations in their country, while seven men, believed to be from Iran, have sewn their mouths shut with string and twine after being trapped at the border for six days.
“It’s difficult to communicate with them,” Gemma Gillie, a representative of Médecins Sans Frontières who witnessed the told The Guardian. “But they’ve been protesting silently and nothing’s happened – so that’s why they’re doing this.”
Meanwhile Sweden, which has historically been one of the most welcoming countries towards asylum seekers, has also announced plans to tighten border controls. It expects up to 190,000 migrants to arrive this year and now has no more room at its reception centres.
“The situation is untenable,” said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. “It is untenable for those who seek asylum, for personnel and for all those who should feel trust for the functions carried out by society. Now, to put it bluntly, more people will have to seek asylum and get protection in other European countries.”