18 September 2015

Between 7 and 11 September, some refugees have been beaten by the police at the borders along the Western Balkans route, and many have spent nights in the open, due to lack of shelters, in problematic hygiene conditions and urgent need of medical assistance. Macedonian and Serbian authorities have not been able to provide sustainable solutions for people seeking international protection in Europe.

On Monday 7 September, the police was filmed beating refugees with clubs at the Greek-Macedonian border, and placed restrictions on entries. On Thursday the Macedonian Foreign minister said his country was considering building a Hungarian-style fence along the southern border. In the border area, refugees are sleeping in the open, as the authorities have not set up any tents or accommodation centre. Hygiene conditions are particularly problematic; there are no toilets or washing facilities and rubbish is scattered everywhere.

Reports from Gevgelija and Tabanovce documented many refugees sleeping outside the centres, due to lack of accommodation. At the same time, worsening weather conditions are causing further difficulties for refugees without shelters. Humanitarian organisations, such as Caritas and the Red Cross, continue to provide water, food and hygiene items; as well as medical assistance to refugees suffering from dehydration, leg injuries and other diseases. However, further help is needed, as humanitarian organisations don’t have the capacities to respond to the need of growing number of arrivals.

The registration procedure of ‘intention to seek asylum’ in Macedonia has been accelerated, thanks to new computer software and Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA)’s data entry clerks. However, with more arrivals concerns have been raised over the lack of protection sensitive system for screening and referral of different vulnerable groups of people, including unaccompanied children.

At the Serbian borders, refugees witnessed robberies and beatings; others reported constant risks of being trafficked and abuses along the Western Balkans route.

Although Serbian authorities, as well as international organisations and NGOs, provide basic assistance, the health and social system has been put under strain. Children are in need of further psychological support, while hygiene conditions remain particularly problematic. Refugees are in urgent need of medical assistance, being affected by dehydration and exhaustion, as well as inflammation and broken bones.

However, instead of building new permanent centres, Serbia is more likely to use EU funds in temporary accommodation facilities, as well as in the identification and return of migrants.

On Tuesday 8 September, a record of 7,000 refugees arrived at the Gevgelija asylum centre; similar numbers of arrivals were reported the following day. In Serbia, arrivals reached the peak of about 5,000 people on Thursday 10 September.

On Wednesday 9 September the European Commission issued a proposal which includes Macedonia and Serbia as safe countries of origin. The same day, a Communication announced high-level conference on Eastern Mediterranean/Western Balkans route to be held in autumn 2015.

See more detailed information in our Western Balkan route News Brief


This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 18 September 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.