news 09 Oct 15

Macedonia Faces Massive Surge in Refugees

Macedonia says it faces the greatest spike in arrivals since the start of the refugee crisis, with about 10,000 people trying to enter and cross the country each day on their way to the West.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Refugees in Gevgelija | Photo by: Meri Jordanovska

As more than 10,000 refugees and migrants from Middle Eastern countries started to arrive in Macedonia for the second day, and with more on the way, authorities say capacities are being pushed to the limit.

"All our efforts are now focused on streamlining the administrative process so that the new arrivals can continue their transit through the country as soon as possible," the Crisis Management Centre, the body coordinating activities on the ground, told BIRN.

Humanitarian workers say the police are no longer wasting time on issuing three-day transit visas to refugees who arrive in large groups at the southern border with Greece.

Instead, after a quick rest, they load them onto trains and in buses, to continue their journey further north towards Serbia and then to EU countries, presumably Germany.

"We are expecting about 20,000 people to arrive at the border in the next couple of days... This has pushed us to the limit but we are coping," police spokesperson Ivo Kotevski said.

Until a few days ago, the number of refugees was fluctuating from 2-3,000 a day up to 5-7,000.

Although people do not stay long in the transit camp in Gevgelija, near the border with Greece, for the humanitarian aid workers there is plenty to do.

Among other things, they ready people with injuries from the long trip, hand out food packages and give psychological and legal counselling for separated families.

"During the summer, food and water and maintaining hygiene was of the utmost urgency. Now, as autumn has come, we are also focused on getting warm clothes and dry places for rest," the NGO Legis said. Legis is among the most active organizations in Macedonia helping refugees on the ground.

While the numbers at the border are growing, Macedonia can count on some €24 million in institutional help through the EU's pre-accession support for migration-related activities.

The European Commission on Tuesday said the money would go on renovation of Macedonian border police stations, the fight against human trafficking and strengthening police capacities for border management.

While Macedonia, and the region, deals with the biggest surge of refugees thus far, President Gjorge Ivanov on Wednesday criticized the EU for not doing enough to share the burden among countries.

"If the EU had integrated the region on time, which refugees are now using as a corridor, the situation with the migrants would have been different... and the responsibility among countries would have been shared," Ivanov said in a speech on global challenges in Sofia, Bulgaria.

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