Macedonia issues state of emergency after refugee surge

2015-08-21 10:37
Migrants wait to cross the Macedonian-Greek border near the town of Gevgelija. (Robert Atanasovski, AFP)

Migrants wait to cross the Macedonian-Greek border near the town of Gevgelija. (Robert Atanasovski, AFP)

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Macedonia has declared a state of emergency as it ramped up security on its southern border with Greece in an attempt to limit the flow of refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The government said on Thursday that it was deploying troops to stem a surge of refugees.

"We cannot hermetically close the borders," Interior Ministry spokesperson Ivo Kotevski told Reuters. But "we will try to reduce illegal border entry to a minimum."

The measure could create a huge backlog of refugees on the Greek side of the border, from where some 2 000 a day have been illegally crossing into Macedonia.

"We can't believe that we are here from this morning," said Ahmet Husa of Syria. "People from Syria escaped from war, escaped death and we want to see our future in Europe. We need this road to see our future."

Thousands of refugees were stranded in a no man's land near the Macedonian town of Gevgelija, from where they planned to catch trains that would take them to the Serbian border on their way to Hungary.

Hungary has begun erecting a fence to try to keep the distraught refugee out.

Macedonia appealed on Wednesday for neighbouring countries to send train carriages to address the demand.

Porous border

The United Nations refugee agency urged the government to do more, saying it should allocate a site to accommodate people fleeing war.

"Depending on how Greece uses ships to de-congest the islands, that will also temporarily increase the arrivals here," said Alexandra Krause, senior protection officer at the UNHCR in Macedonian capital, Skopje.

"The Macedonian government needs to provide an appropriate site to be able to shelter the arrivals properly and to ensure sufficient assistance," Krause told Reuters.

The only site currently being used is at the local police station, where Krause said the UNHCR had constructed some shelter with capacity for just 165 people.

Krause said the Red Cross had access to the migrants and refugees in the border area but warned of harsher weather approaching.

Up until now, the border has been porous, with only a few patrols on each side. Sealing the border would disrupt the so-called Balkan corridor for refugees who begin their journey in Turkey and take boats.

Almost 39,000 refugees, most of them Syrians, have been registered passing through Macedonia over the past month, double the number from the month before.

Read more on:    macedonia  |  security  |  migrants

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