27 November 2015

Since 18 November, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia simultaneously prevented all refugees from entering the country, with the exception of Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. Thousands of refugees were refused access to international protection, in violation to the right to asylum and the principle of non-discrimination under European and international law.

As soon as Macedonia received the notice from other Western Balkans countries, the Greek-Macedonian border was closed and military presence reinforced by both countries. Once refugees arrived at the border, Macedonian authorities checked their nationality. While Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis were allowed to cross, all other nationals were blocked. Mixed families, such as Pakistan-Syrian or Afghan-Iranian risked being separated. On the evening of 19 November, Around 6,000 asylum seekers were stranded at the border. Some were accommodated in a temporary centre near Idomeni on the Greek side. These measures have led to tensions between refugees of different nationalities. Many have protested against the border police. Only two or three refugees managed to enter, on the grounds of their serious health condition. The Red Cross distributed blankets, but UNHCR had no access to the border area between Greece and Macedonia.

Following the actions of these governments, on 19 and 20 November, hundreds of refugees have been left waiting in the transit centre of Tabanovce or at the border between Macedonia and Serbia. According to UNHCR, the majority are women, children and families. Many refugees have been accommodated in the centre, but others have slept outside for days, in the cold and without food. Since 19 November, in Miratovac and Presevo, those refugees who had already crossed the border were separated, by nationality. In Presevo, the registration of refugees from countries other than Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq was stopped. Although they could not register they have not been deported. However, on 20 November, other reports indicated that, without being registered, some refugees were transported back to Miratovac, at the border with Macedonia, while others were sent back to Tabanovce in Macedonia. According to UNHCR, since the evening of 18 November, Serbia started sending back to Macedonia those refugees who were not Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.

On 19 November, about 400 refugees could not board a train to Croatia and were prevented from crossing the border, through the fields, by the Croatian police, because of their nationality. Also, Slovenia started sending back asylum seekers from specific countries. However, on the same day, Croatia refused 162 people, who were sent back from Slovenia.

Commenting on these discriminatory practices, UNHCR stressed that “there is (no) nation that can be excluded from international protection (and) each case should be screened individually.” In a joint statement, UNHCR, IOM, and UNICEF expressed serious concerns, as profiling asylum seekers on the basis of their nationality is “increasingly untenable from every point of view – humanitarian, legal, and also safety related, not least in light of falling temperatures and the risks for children and others with specific needs.”

See more detailed information in the ECRE Western Balkans News Brief 14 – 20 November 2015

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 27 November 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.