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News 16 Nov 15

Balkan Leaders Condemn Xenophobia After Paris Attacks

Political leaders in Serbia and Croatia warned against any xenophobic backlash against refugees, while Macedonia prepared for the possible building of a barbed-wire fence on its border.

BIRN Team
BIRN
Skopje, Belgrade, Zagreb

Refugees at the Macedonian border with Greece | Photo: BIRN

Authorities in Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia said they are on heightened alert about possible militants concealing themselves among the refugees using the Balkan route to reach Western Europe after unconfirmed reports that one of the Paris attack suspects passed through the region.

But some political leaders and rights campaigners also issued warnings that the Paris attacks should not be directly linked to the refugee issue or used to stoke ethnic hatred.

Macedonia’s Security Council on Sunday ordered the military to stand ready for the possible construction of a barbed-wire fence on the southern border with Greece, the main entry point for refugees, should Western European countries limit the numbers allowed in.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov insisted however that the fence would “not be aimed at closing the border, but at channelling and limiting the [refugee] flow”.

Meanwhile Uranija Pirovska, the head of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, urged that the Paris attacks should not be linked to the ongoing refugee crisis.

“We are already facing serious hate speech, even hatred-driven incidents towards those who are helping refugees,” Pirovska said.

The annual March of Tolerance on Sunday in the Macedonian capital Skopje was dedicated to refugees and calls for tolerance and compassion about their ordeal. A minute’s silence for the victims of the Paris attacks was also observed at the march, which was attended by French ambassador Laurence Auer.

Several Macedonian media speculated meanwhile about the possibility that some of the attackers may have transited the country on their way to France.

Media reported at the weekend that a man holding a Syrian passport which was found at the scene of one of the Paris attacks had passed through Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia in October, claiming to be a refugee. France however has not officially confirmed that the passport belonged to one of the suspected attackers.

Serbian officials have said that the Syrian passport holder registered as an asylum-seeker in the town of Presevo near the border with Macedonia on October 7.

The country’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Monday sent out a strong message against ethnic hatred.

“Arabs are no better than non-Arabs nor vice versa. A white person is no better than a black person or the other way around. The only thing that is important is kindness and personal qualities. Colour and belief play no role,” Vucic said.

But a minor right-wing group, the Serbian People’s Party, which has often called on the authorities to close the borders to refugees to boost security, said in a statement that its fears were vindicated by the Syrian passport find.

It said this confirmed allegations that “terrorists are travelling hidden among migrants on the ‘Balkan route’.”

In Croatia, interior minister Ranko Ostojic said on Monday that the Paris attackers’ goal was to jeopardise the refugee route and prevent them from fleeing the conflicts in the Middle East.

"That's why I was glad that [European Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker said that criminals should be distinguished from people who are refugees," Ostojic said.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said on Saturday meanwhile that he would not link the refugee crisis with "the tragedy in Paris". 

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Sasa Dragojlo and Sven Milekic contributed to this report.

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