30 October 2015

On the morning of 19 October the border between Serbia and Croatia at Berkasovo was closed. Refugees, prevented from entering Croatia, and having endured challenging weather conditions, were not offered any kind of assistance. Most refugees who reached the Croatian border, from Greece, had been travelling in dangerously overcrowded trains along the Western Balkan route, through Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria. International organisations and NGOs continued to provide humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as information and legal aid. According to news reports, Croatia closed the border because the Opatovac temporary reception centre was overcrowded. This related to  the Slovenian decision to impose a daily limit of 2,500 people entering the country. On the evening of 19 October, the crossing point at Berkasovo was re-opened, allowing small groups of refugees – between 50 and 100 – to enter Croatia at irregular intervals. Priority was given to the most vulnerable.

Refugees were stuck at the border for hours without shelter, under freezing temperatures, in the mud and scattered garbage. Many spent the night in the open. UNHCR stated that living conditions are at their most basic, as people do not have access to sanitation or hygiene services. Supplies of food, raincoats and water remain insufficient. So far, humanitarian assistance was only provided by international organisations and NGOs, such as UNHCR, the Red Cross and MSF, which deployed two mobile clinics.

Concurrently, between 15 and 22 October, the Macedonian police, in cooperation with the Macedonia Young Lawyer Association (MYLA), together with UNHCR’s support, registered 24,489 people who expressed their intention to seek asylum; most of them being Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. During the same period, around 5,800 refugees arrived on a daily basis in Macedonia.

As of 17 October, approximatively 4,000 refugees each day have been registered by Serbian authorities in Presevo. On 18 October, in just 24 hours, 10,000 refugees were registered in Presevo; many of them were children and pregnant women. Most refugees enter Serbia from Macedonia, but an increasing number are also crossing from Bulgaria. According to the NGO, Amity,  registration capacities need to be increased at the Negotin crossing point at the Serbian-Bulgarian border. In Negotin and Dimitrovgrad, additional medical teams are needed. Refugees approached by journalists on the ground reported injuries from violence perpetrated by the Bulgarian police.

Between 15 and 22 October, in Macedonia and Serbia, international organisations and NGOs continued to ensure humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as information and legal aid. UNICEF provides children with psychological support and other basic services. During this period, hygiene and living conditions have improved at the Vinojug Reception Center in Macedonia. In Serbia, in case Presevo capacities would be insufficient, a registration centre in Bujanovac was established to allow registration for 1,500 people every day and to provide refugees with food and medical care.

On 25 October, the Heads of State and the governments of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia agreed on a final statement on the Western Balkans Migration Route which puts forward 17 operational measures to be implemented as of Monday 26 October.

See more detailed information in our Western Balkan route News Brief 16-23 October 2015.


This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.