4 March 2016

Newly introduced measures introduced by Western Balkans governments and Austria will create an even more dangerous environment for people on the move, warned a coalition of 26 NGOs, including ECRE.

On 18 February, the Austrian, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and FYROM governments agreed on common measures to deal with the “refugee crisis”, establishing new refugee registration and transportation mechanisms that could amount to arbitrary and illegal restrictions on a person’s right to seek international protection. Afghan refugees have not been allowed to cross the Greek-Macedonian border since 21 February and have been stranded at the border for days.  The organisations highlight that border restrictions on the basis of nationality deny each person’s right to an individual assessment of their international protection needs – which runs counter to international and European refugee and human rights law.

Since 19 February, Austria has set an daily entry quota and is only allowing a maximum of 3,200 to transit to Austria, it has also put a cap on the amount of asylum application it is willing to receive, limiting it to 80 applications per day. To avoid refugees gathering “en masse” at their borders, other countries on the “route” adopted similar policies, leaving thousands of people stranded at the Greek border. Asylum seekers are unable to proceed with their journey northwards and do not have access to basic services in Greece. Vulnerable groups such as women, children and the elderly are exposed to heightened risks as no special care is available for them.

Furthermore, Serbia and Bulgaria are cooperating to stop and push-back refugees entering through the Dimitrovgrad border crossing, on the Bulgarian border. These new measures not only violate international and European law, but also exacerbate the level of human suffering on the ground and perpetuate the humanitarian crisis.

The coalition calls on the European institutions to take action to stop selective admissions and push-backs at the borders and to create safe and legal channels for refugees to reach Europe without endangering their lives and feeding smuggling rings. Every asylum seeker must have access to a fair refugee status determination procedure, and those who cannot continue their journey should be able to find alternative dignified and safe solutions.

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 4 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.