News 17 Aug 16

Macedonia Resists Illegal Migrant Flow

Migrants have increased attempts to illegally cross Macedonia on their way to EU countries since the ‘Balkan route’ was closed in March.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Photo by: Elena Geroska

Since March, after several countries along the so-called Balkan refugee and migrant route closed their borders to migrants, Macedonian authorities say the number of people trying to cross the country's border illegally has risen dramatically.

In an effort to prevent more illegal entries, Macedonia’s coordinative body for refugees and migrants, part of the national Crisis Management Centre, last month boosted the police and army presence on the southern border with Greece.

In the past 24 hours, there have been over 120 attempts of illegal entry by migrants and refugees from Greece to Macedonia, according to Macedonian police.

Macedonian authorities caught 49 migrants attempting an illegal crossing, while the rest were prevented from entering at the Greek border.

"There is no way of telling how many succeeded in crossing Macedonia unnoticed. Their numbers [since March] may be in thousands," says C.A. a Macedonian border police commander who insists on anonymity told BIRN.

Most of the migrants who do get past border security continue further north towards Serbia and then on to EU countries.

"One of the main suspected entry points is the village of Moin, [near Gevgelija]... We do think that local residents and smugglers help them along the way for a certain fee," C.A. told BIRN.

On Saturday, a 17-year-old Afghani woman reportedly gave birth after being caught by authorities near the southern town of Gevgelija while trying to illegally cross the border from Greece along with her husband and other migrants.

Shortly after being rounded up by the security forces, the woman delivered her baby in an army truck, on the road to the hospital in Gevgelija where she is currently staying, Alfa TV reported.

Her husband told Alfa TV that they were fleeing the refugee camp near Thessaloniki, Greece, where they faced bad conditions.

"The conditions in the camp were very bad, no food and bad security. There were scuffles between the people every day," the husband was quoted as saying.

Along with passing migrants, more than 200 migrants and refugees remain stranded in Macedonia, 130 in the migrant camp in Gevgelija and 80 in Tabanovce, on the northern border with Serbia.

During the refugee crisis in 2015, about a million refugees crossed Macedonia and then Serbia on their way to EU countries.

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