News 02 Feb 16

Macedonia's Tighter Borders Revive Migrant Smuggling

Stricter controls on Macedonia’s border with Greece have revived the lucrative business of migrant trafficking - prompting claims that local police and residents are involved.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Fence at the Macedonian southern border with Greece | Photo by: AP/Bornis Grdanoski

Macedonia’s decision in November to bar so-called economic migrants from entry has revitalised old illegal migrant trafficking routes, local residents and police officers told BIRN.

“Several border villages are the main hubs where these people [the migrants] are being harboured by traffickers, and later they are transported by various means north [to the Serbian border]," a border police officer told BIRN on Monday.

The villages of Moin and Bogorodica, near the southern border town of Gevgelija, are pinpointed as hubs where migrants arrive under cover of the night.

Not even the several-kilometre-long border fence enforced by barbed wire can hold them back.

“The [border] line is frequently patrolled but we often find holes in the fence. We have had some busts but many slip through; it is as if they have some insiders who signal our arrival to them,” the same officer said.

One resident of Moin, a retired farmer, told BIRN that the migrants move in large groups. “From 15 to 30 or maybe 40 of them are treading this path [at a time],” he said. 

“I have seen them with my own eyes - the groups move almost every night… Our own people are involved, surely,” he added.

The police maintain that they are doing everything in their power to prevent illegal crossings. Since the end of November, Macedonian police say thay have had over 20 busts of illegal migrants and traffickers at or near the southern border.

Macedonia, along with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, introduced its new, stricter border policy on November 18.

Since then, it has only allowed refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to enter the country. The authorities have pushed back to Greece thousands of people from other countries, treating them as economic migrants, ignoring any claim they may have to asylum.

Last week, Macedonia welcomed Slovenia's plan for increased security on Macedonia's border with Greece in order to stem the flow of migrants moving towards Western Europe.

The Slovenian plan, which the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, also praised, essentially envisages that most of the migrants now entering Greece will stay there.

This would reduce pressure on Western Balkan countries that lie on the refugee route and ultimately curb the flow of migrants to destination countries like Germany and Austria.

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