Idomeni refugees push to cross into Macedonia despite border closure

Hundreds of refugees at the Idomeni camp have been stopped by Macedonian troops after walking through mud and forging a river to cross the border. Idomeni has become the latest flashpoint in the refugee crisis.

Hundreds of desperate refugees on Monday marched out of the water-logged Idonemi camp in Greece, seeking an alternative route across the sealed border of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The mainly Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including children, trudged through mud carrying their belongings towards a river about 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the west of Idomeni, where some 12,000 refugees are stranded.

The refugees forded a swollen river that crosses into Macedonia, putting them closer to the sealed border as they searched for holes in a newly built barbed wire fence.

Highlighting the dangers, Macedonian state TV MRT on Monday reported three Afghans were found dead in the river, apparently having drowned the previous day as part of a group of more than 20 refugees trying to cross the swollen Suva Reka river.

Hours after setting out from the camp, several hundred refugees were able cross into Macedonia, where they were detained by border police and the army for illegally entering the country. Around 30 journalists following the refugees were also arrested.

Macedonia’s interior ministry said it was “taking steps” to return more than 700 illegal migrants back to Greece and would improve security where migrants crossed.

After Austria last month put caps on the number of migrants it would allow to cross its border, in a domino effect Balkan nations first restricted, then last week completely sealed border crossings to anybody without EU visas, effectively trapping more than 40,000 refugees and migrants in Greece.

After crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece, most migrants and refugees had moved to richer EU countries like Germany through the so-called Balkan route through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is pushing a European solution to the refugee crisis and a controversial deal with Turkey, has come out against the border closures while recognizing they have helped reduce the influx of migrants into Germany.

“It is unquestionable that Germany benefits from [the route closure, but] we can see from pictures out of Greece that that is not a sustainable solution,” Merkel said Monday, a day after her party suffered in regional elections that were viewed as litmus test of her open-door refugee policy.

EU leaders and Turkey are set to meet on Thursday to hammer out a deal to stem the disorganized influx of migrants and refugees coming to Europe.

The border closures have raised concern that desperate and frustrated refugees will seek more dangerous ways to make their way north. So far, the closure of the Balkan route appears to have done little to stop migrants and refugees from crossing the Aegean.

According the UNHCR, more than 8,500 refugees and migrants crossed the Aegean last week, putting an even greater burden on Greece.














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Refugees brave rain surging river to flee teeming Idomeni camp

Defying E.U., Hundreds of Migrants Enter Macedonia From Greece

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Hundreds of migrants braved a fast-moving river to cross from Greece into Macedonia on Monday, defying efforts by European officials to stop people fleeing war and desperation from traveling through the Balkans to Germany and other destinations.

At least three people — two women and a man, all around 20 — drowned when trying to cross the border, and four people traveling with them were hospitalized, according to humanitarian groups in the area.

The border had been effectively sealed since last week, when Macedonia, along with Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, said it would no longer allow migrants to pass through on their way north.

The result has been growing pressure at the Greek-Macedonian border, where an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 migrants have been stuck in increasingly desperate conditions, including an outbreak of hepatitis A.

On Monday, the border finally gave way, at least temporarily. Hundreds of asylum seekers marched west from a squalid camp near the Greek village of Idomeni and waded into the Suva Reka, forming human chains to pass infants and toddlers over the rushing river to Macedonia.

The three people who drowned were Afghans, humanitarian groups working in the area said. Although Afghanistan is a poor and war-ravaged country, many Afghans are considered to have only a slim chance of being granted asylum after the European Union categorized them last month as economic migrants. Syrians and many Iraqis who are fleeing civil war and the threat of Islamic extremists have an easier case for asylum in Europe.

European Union officials, determined to avoid a repeat of last year, when the asylum system all but collapsed, agreed to a political deal with Turkey last week to stop migrants from pouring into southeastern Europe.

Under the deal, Turkey would receive financial aid and political consideration in exchange for preventing migrants, mostly Syrian, from risking their lives to cross the Aegean Sea. European officials would assess the asylum applications of Syrian refugees — and directly resettle those whose applications are approved — from refugee camps in Turkey.

The terms of the deal are to be hashed out in Brussels this week.

The authorities in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, did not provide an official comment on the situation Monday, but they were said to be considering forcing the migrants back to Idomeni, across the Greek border. Doing so could be politically damaging for Macedonia, a tiny country that was part of the former Yugoslavia and that has been trying since 2005 to join the European Union.

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Hundreds of thousands of refugees are making their way to Europe.

Although this number is smaller than the millions pouring into Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, it is a crisis dividing Europe.

Many Europeans are uneasy and concerned about what they feel is a lack of control and wonder who is coming and whether their societies can cope.

So what are the refugees seeking in Europe? And what do they have to say to Europeans who do not want them to come to their countries?

Just stop the war, we do not want to go to Europe

Kinan Masalemehi, a 13-year-old Syrian refugee, gives his heartfelt message about the crisis and asks for help! Just stop the war, we don’t want to go to Europe! Just stop the war, just that!

Published on Sep 2, 2015

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Published on Jan 21, 2015
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